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It's a small village, Gaston, I've met them all

Chapter Text

 

It was almost as picturesque as he imagined: his latest kill roasting on a spit above the pit’s roaring fire, their children in various stages of youth free from chores and either playing with their dogs or sitting much like their mother reading a book.

He sat on one armchair in front of the fireplace, tired after a good day’s hunt. He stretched out his legs, his feet reaching the other where Belle sat mending one of the children’s shirts. He wiggled his toes.

“No, Gaston,” she stopped. “You’ve been doing this for years and I’ve been saying this for years.”

He argued yet again.. as they did every time he spent all day out in the woods with Lefou, searching for the biggest prey before finally bringing down an exceptionally large buck, and then hauling it home with his bare hands (with Lefou, but he did most of the heavy lifting). “That’s the point. It’s been years . Don’t you think you oughta change your mind about that one little not important thingy you told me fifteen years ago? As your husband, I’m not going anywhere.”

She scoffed abruptly. “Is that your way of telling me to get used to it? Gaston-”

She continued on but he didn’t listen. Her voice was getting terse and he was vaguely aware he should start backpedalling or else he’d spend yet another night on the cold and uncomfortable floor alone as she gave him her famed silent treatment. And after a good and eventful hunt, he usually preferred to do some sensual activities with her before bed.

His feet unceremoniously landing on the wooden floor jerked him from his thoughts. He gave her an incredulous look which she did not see as her eyes were purposely focused on her mending.

Her voice dripped, sickly sweet. “I should not be surprised you stop listening when it doesn’t concern anything about your person. I was serious when I said I would not be your little wife-”

“I know that, Belle,” he grunted stubbornly. He tried again and she pushed his feet off once more, a small grin to her face.

It was all jest - her frustrated behavior with him. All an act.

“Belle-” he growled in annoyance at seeing her look. He was about to attempt again when little hands, their owner on wobbly feet, pushed at the side of his leg. He looked down to their youngest who was just getting the hang of this walking business.

He made a grumble at Belle, who laughed lightly in return, and might have added in his deep and sultry voice, “Later, my beauty, when the children are asleep.” He gave her a semi-serious glare to which she smirked at. Then he lifted his daughter onto his lap.

Little Amelia - number eight in the long train of Gaston genes as Lefou loved to put it - had turned 1 not seven months ago and like Gilbert had been twelve years previous, was a quiet and peaceful baby who hardly ever cried. She was as beautiful as her sisters and her mother. She and two of her older brothers were the only ones to inherit Gaston’s grey eyes - the other five had Belle’s brown orbs.

Amelia reached forward and with her pudgy hands, touched Gaston’s face. Her hands landed none too lightly against his stubbled cheeks. Belle, having set down her work, watched the two and winced for him. She smiled fondly as she would every time he held their children for he would remain unaffected by their rough pulls and pinches and punches.

She smiled at the two as he pulled Amelia close and kissed her cheeks, the scratch of his stubble making her laugh. Her little contagious laugh pulled a hearty chuckle from his chest.

When he said he had changed all those years ago, she hadn’t thought he could change that much.

Of course, with Gaston being Gaston, she certainly had not expected Gaston to be a hands-on and caring and nurturing father right from the start… But she really hadn’t expected that ever .

The first many think of when the burly man is mentioned is: a hunter who boasts about himself every hour of every night. She could easily recall it was just that in the beginning. But once she had broken him of the “Gaston” song him and Lefou came up with and singing it to their oldest Nathaniel then Gilbert when they were babies, she saw that perhaps he could change…

And from the day in the townsquare where the villagers called her odd, she should have known the bouquet of flowers (and him being entirely too forward) was his way of trying to please her.

The thump of heels hitting the chair startled her. She glared at their owner who no longer held Amelia and was grinning. She narrowed her eyes and abruptly stood up, his feet landing harshly on the floor.

“No, Gaston.”

Chapter Text

 

He stood outside the dress shop in front of the mirror, swooning at his reflection as he waited for Belle to finish up at the library. He turned his head and admired the fine frame of his face, his strong jaw, the cleft in his chin.

"No one has a swell cleft in his chin like Gaston," he said with a simple smirk. "And you are simply breathtaking. No one appreciates your beauty-" He ran his hand along the side of his face, admiring his cheekbones. "-your fine, fine beauty."

There was a commotion behind him but he could care less about the villagers and whatever shenanigans they were up to. He only cared about those luscious grey eyes of his staring back at him-

"Interrupting your ritual again," Lefou quirked, suddenly appearing beside his good friend.

Gaston flinched then grumbled. "What is it?"

"Belle at the library again?"

The taller man, still looking in the mirror and in fact hadn't turned to physically acknowledge Lefou, smoldered and admired himself. "Yes, why do you ask?"

Lefou hummed and leaned on the wall. He nodded his head toward the commotion across the square. "There's a bit of ruckus over there. Thought you might want to know about it," he shrugged.

Gaston grinned to himself - quite literally to himself - and said, without looking away from the mirror yet again, "Ruckus, you say?"

"Yes, at the library."

"A certain damsel in distress, no doubt?" he continued.

Lefou hummed his answer. He clapped Gaston's shoulder before heading off to the stables.

The man chuckled. He straightened himself and fixed his jacket, smoothing back his hair and squaring his broad shoulders. "It's hero time," he smirked at his reflection.

The voice that spoke next startled him but he was careful not to show it. But it did stop him from continuing on with his mission.

"If you had any sense to acknowledge poor Lefou, you would've seen that I've been standing beside you for the whole of your conversation." The voice held slight humor though sounded as if its owner wore a frown. "Hero time?" she said unconvincingly… or sarcastically.

"Belle!" he chuckled sharply. He turned to her, trying to act as if he had seen here there all along. "Hero time, yes! Of course, only reserved for a certain damsel in distress." He grinned widely, his hands grasping her shoulders enthusiastically.

She was not amused. She raised her eyebrow. "Damsel, Gaston?" she asked, her voice tinged with annoyance.

His arrogant chuckle continued, "Yes. My little wife, my damsel." His hands moved to hers.

She wrenched them from his grasp and stepped away from him. "Gaston," she huffed defiantly. "I am not your little wife! And I most certainly not a damsel in-"

Frantic hooves of a certain black and white horse charged down the narrow roads, flying past her faster than she could realize it and by the time she realized it, she had fallen backwards, landing in a puddle of water.

"-distress," she finished off with a disgruntled grumble.

"Lefou!" Gaston shouted after the horse in frustration. Then his frustration with his fool of a friend turned into haughty laughter as he helped Belle up. "My, my, damsel in distress indeed." He took note of her wet skirts and tugged at them. "It isn't ladylike for a woman to wear wet skirts in public-"

She snatched them away from him. "Leave them! It's not civil to remove them right now-" she grunted.

He chuckled. "We're newlyweds, the townspeople will understand!"

She rolled her eyes. "The only use of a hero you can be is to take me home where I can get out of this."

He tugged on her skirts again.

"Gaston!"

Chapter Text

 

He sat in front of the fireplace, lounging on the armchair. She stood a ways to the side of him.

She tossed the book to him - had she handed it to him he wouldn't have taken it.

He frowned and picked it up. He looked at the canvas cover then at her. He watched her lips move and heard her voice but didn't pay attention until he heard a certain phrase.

"To read?" he asked incredulously.

She had been expecting this sort of reaction from him. She had her patience ready. "Yes, Gaston."

He stammered out a disbelieving chuckle and he sat straighter. "You're sure about this?" He looked at her carefully as if this were a matter of life and death.. which in his case, it might as well be. "Belle, the town's already giving you a lot of grief for having your nose in books. Now you'll subject it to our kids?"

She huffed, irritated. "Gaston, our children will not be illiterate. Even you need to brush up on your literary skills-"

"I know how to read," he haughtily waved off.

Belle glared at him. "The basics, yes, but that's for reading maps. You need to read an actual book and… and I will teach Lefou how to read too."

He scoffed. "Damn Lefou. The villagers won't accept- We would have to move!"

"We are not moving, Gaston. Papa is here and I want our children to know him- The town will just have to get used to the children of Gaston learning how to read."

A frustrated grunt left his chest without hesitation.

She raised an eyebrow. "You wanted sons, yes? Strapping young lads like you?"

He looked at her. There was a catch.

"I will give you sons so long as I can teach them to read.".

There it was. But he was Gaston, and no one refused to read more than Gaston. "And if I say no?"

She smiled stiffly at him. "Then you will have no sons and I will no longer be your love."

His confidence at winning this argument dwindled slowly. Then he sat there, staring at the opposite wall, his upper lip twitching in aggravation. It was occurring to him he'd have to give in and face the fact that their children will learn how to read… and Lefou too. "Fine," he growled, sulking with his arms folded over his chest.

Belle was thoroughly pleased with herself. She took the book from him. "Shall we get started, then?"

He did a double take, semi-eagerly sitting to attention. "Now?" he asked with a slight laugh as if he was not acting as stubborn. Then he quickly added, "Not that I'm against it, but you want to try for sons right now, before supper?"

She shot him a glare. "No, you oaf. Reading. Teaching you."

He narrowed his eyes and slumped back into the chair with a disappointed mutter under his breath. "I never agreed to that."

"But you never said you wouldn't."

He had to hand it to her. Belle could be as argumentative as she was beautiful. And he loved her for it.

"Fine," he reluctantly agreed - or snapped, he couldn't tell. "But not a word of this leaves this house. I do not want to ruin my reputation with the villagers." He started muttering, "Reading… Books… Me!"

She rolled her eyes. "Whatever."

Chapter Text

 

"SWEET LORD!"

Belle huffed and sharply set down the pot of supper on the table.

Gaston had been getting on her last nerves recently. Seventy percent of that was the man himself and the remaining thirty was her aggravating hormones their - his - latest spawn was responsible for.

A seven-year-old Julia and a nine-year-old Gilbert scurried in front of their mother to the source of the howl. Belle tried to think of what Lefou told her (and Gaston), something about taking deep breaths. Deep, calming, going-to-strangle-him breaths.

She came upon the back door and heard more curses and commotion. She stomped outside - as best as she could given her current situation.

"Gaston! Unhand our son!" she shouted over their grunts.

Nathaniel, eleven-year-old Nathaniel, was pinned down underneath the bulky weight of Gaston… apparently in the midst of a wrestling match. He looked to his mother for help, his brown eyes pleading.

She huffed again and puffed her way over to the two. She grabbed Gaston's arm and gave him a good yank. It wasn't enough to move him but it was enough to signal that he was in some deep trouble.

"Why on earth have you- Why are you- Ugh!" She should really give up on asking herself and Gaston why the man did such things. She couldn't look at him, so she watched her oldest shakily stand up.

"Good show, Papa," he managed tiredly. "Yeah, you win. You're the best at wrestling." He pulled down his sleeve before his mother noticed but he wasn't fast enough.

"Gaston-" she said near scandalously, her voice cracking. She stepped forward and yanked Nathaniel's sleeve up. "Did you- Gaston! Did you bite our son?!"

The man dressed in his usual red and brown straightened his clothes and smoothed back his hair. "In a wrestling match, nobody bites like Gaston!"

Deep breaths, Belle. Deep, calming, he-was-going-to-regret-all-of-this-later breaths…

She shot him an angry and dark look before urging Nathaniel, Julia, and Gilbert back into the house. "Supper is on the table. Nathaniel, I want you cleaned up before-" She stopped talking as she noticed another tick about Gaston.

"You even have an audience," she grunted with minor disbelief. "Why am I not surprised anymore…" She picked up their toddler Agatha and ushered Thomas to follow her into the house. "Gaston, I wouldn't bother getting cleaned up. You'll be taking your supper in the stables."

"Belle!" he said with shock.

"I have had it," she said quietly through gritted teeth. Then in a much nicer tone added, "Lefou, I know you're there. You may join us for dinner. It's no trouble."

Lefou appeared from behind a chubby tree. "Thank you, Belle."

Gaston grumbled.

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"Belle!"

Sitting with her legs tucked under her and a quilt across her lap, needle and thread in hand, she smiled at his surprised cry.

Said man came stomping staggeringly into the house - not quite all the way to stumbling but very, very close. A frown of mighty confusion sat on his brow, and his mouth was agape as he tried to process what he just walked through- over- did not stomp on at all!

"Where-" he stopped. His eyes flicking to Belle who did her best to smother her smile - she tried to look concerned and worried about whatever was on his mind. "The cabbages? Where are the cabbages I usually trample over?"

She shrugged plainly and went back to her work.

"But Belle, how-"

She was relishing in the lovely moment of seeing and hearing Gaston flustered and confused.

He continued his complaint like a petulant child. "How am I supposed to walk through the garden? Get to the front door? Visit my lovely wife while I'm out hunting?" His boots were heavy on the wooden floor and he stopped just in front of Belle. His hands grasped the material that lay across her lap and she let go of the needle and thread, allowing him to pull it from her and set it aside.

He knelt down on one knee in front of her - ready to plead- argue. Gaston does not plead. But when he does, no one pleads like Gaston. "Belle, what- why have you gotten rid of my cabbages? In their place are.. are.. these weird ceramic things!"

"Because seeds are being wasted when you step onto those cabbages," she replied easily. "I thought it best to make a cobblestone walkway so I don't have to worry about pulling the wasted cabbages from the ground every season change-"

"But Belle!" he groaned. "I am lost without those cabbages!"

Julia - their oldest daughter who just happened to be walking past the doorway when Gaston said what he said - stopped short and turned. Her eyebrows raised with a mixture of "I don't want to know" and "what's going on?" look to them. She stood still and watched, unaware three of her siblings were near.

"- how will I know I've arrived at the right house? Like my army jacket, these cabbages make me who I am-" His hands fisted in her skirts. He was still kneeling before her.

She ran her palm down the side of his face, his pleading and lost and confused face. "I thought that was my job," she smiled.

Her insides grew tingly as his grey eyes changed and grew dark with seductive mirth. She hummed as his hands traveled up to her waist, pulling her forward until she practically sat on his bended knee. She wrapped her arms around his neck and let out a smothered laugh as he eagerly captured her lips. Her hands splayed across his back, pulling herself closer to him. She swallowed his grunt of approval as he pried her mouth open with his tongue. She moaned in-

An exaggerated vomit noise startled the two. Belle stood from Gaston's lap and attempted to hide her reddening face. But the damage had already been done to their unknown audience.

"Ew, gross! Aren't you two a little old for that stuff?" Nathaniel gagged from the doorway.

Gaston snorted and pulled Belle back down. "Never," he growled before eliciting a squeak from his wife at his teeth-clashing kiss.

Their audience - approximately four kids - hurried away with noises ranging from oohs to ewws.

Chapter Text

 

Gaston casually walked the streets of the village with his usual air of confidence and superiority. He nodded in greeting to the baker, the butcher, the merchants of the village, and the ladies that still fawned over him though he had been quite contently married to the woman of his dreams for six months. He still could care less of what they thought of him.

The town was dwindling to a soft mutter as the sun started to set. Those who gathered in the townsquare everyday were finally heading home where supper was surely waiting. Speaking of supper, Gaston had little time to waste in town or else his own supper would be long cold by the time he returned. Nevertheless, he wore his gleaming grin as he marched through the quieting town.

And he hoped his grin wouldn't lead them to suspect him of any odd behavior.

He glanced over his shoulder one last time before quickly ducking into the library - of all places! He needed no one to see him associate himself with books and reading and words on pages! He straightened himself smartly as Pere Robert spotted him.

"Monsieur Gaston." He was honestly surprised at the hunter's untimely, unknowingly, odd appearance in the establishment. But Pere Robert judged no one, especially not those who wanted to borrow his books. "What can I do for you?"

The burly man glanced not so comfortably around the room. "I need that book Belle always gets," he grunted out not so nicely.

"Oh?"

"Yes, yes," he urged. He waved off the librarian's concern/interest in the matter. He walked to the small table and snatched up the book that looked the most familiar. "This one!" he said with determination.

Pere Robert frowned. "Monsieur Gaston, I'm sure Belle would be pleased to check the book out herself in the morning."

Gaston's shoulders tensed somewhat but he turned to the librarian and gave him a semi-assuring smile. "No, I need it.. now." He gave a firm nod of his head, tipped his hat, and started for the door. Just as he opened it, he turned back to Pere Robert. "Nobody must know that I was here. Got that?"

His voice wasn't threatening but the librarian knew better than to question him. "Yes, sir."

Two weeks passed…

Gaston felt quite pleased with himself.

He had been a little rusty with many elaborate words written out in very long, long sentences. But he managed to get through most of that book he secretly kept from his wife for two weeks. The language was very complicated and for someone without constant practice (which he was currently in the middle of getting from her), it was a bit of a challenge.

And there were some days where he hated that challenge of reading a book with no pictures, but he really did want to please her.

"Wonderful book you have there, Belle!" he greeted. His loud voice startling her.

She winced.

She purposely left the house early in the morning to wander the town by herself and to question Pere Robert about the very book in her grasp. He had been awfully secretive of its whereabouts for the past two weeks.

She faced her husband. "H-have you read it?" she asked much like the first time he ran into her when he was on his mission to woo her.

Okay, he had practiced this. He had memorized it. He had practically become it. He had this!

"My bounty is as b-boundless as the sea, my love as deep; the more I give to thee, the more I have, for both are… infinite!" he recited.

Her eyebrows raised in sheer surprise. "Gaston, you've read it?" Her voice was filled with hope and dare he say happiness.

"Of course!" he said in his big and booming voice. "Wanted to see what has you so in love with it."

She smiled. "Well, I am.. thoroughly pleased and Gaston!" Then a laugh crept from her. "Why did you keep it from me? That you were reading Romeo and Juliet?"

He shrugged nonchalantly. "Oh, Belle. Can't you just adore my actions without all these questions?"

"Of course, Gaston," she said - her tone travelling back to unamused and put out. "What was I thinking…"

Chapter Text

 

His body was tense.

His voice was terse.

His mind was cracked.

And his temper was thin.

He nearly had it with Maurice and the man's rantings and ravings - crazy old Maurice, he should have known for Belle and this 'castle' were nowhere in sight!

Oh, he was so close to letting Maurice know how he really felt about all of this- this utter nonsense!

His eyes were manic and he was struggling to remain sane. "There are no such things as these beasts or talking teacups... or magic! But there are wolves, frostbite, and starvation!"

Lefou stood from the carriage. "Deep breaths, Gaston. Deep breaths."

Of which he could not muster. But he tried to listen. "So why don't we just turn around, go back to Villeneuve, I'm sure-"

A sudden scream cut him off shortly followed by the wild neigh of a horse. The sounds came from the path Maurice had just been babbling about mere minutes ago.

"Belle!" Maurice cried. He was filled with brief hope in reuniting with his daughter - but she was in trouble. She needed help-

Though Gaston had been expecting to see Belle, he hadn't been expecting that she would be any sort danger. He was only armed with his pistol and a few odd bullets, but he dashed down the mysterious path Maurice had tried to point out when they first arrived, down toward the sounds of her cries without a second thought.

In the forest, Belle twisted and turned the reins, trying to dodge the wolves that were snapping and leaping. Philippe charged forward, weaving in and out and managing to escape many hungry jaws. She urged him faster and faster but she feared fate wouldn't be on her side that night.

She looked ahead - the clearing, the crossroads were in her sights but it seemed she would never make it. Her hope was a folly. The wolves were zeroing in, getting closer. Philippe could only go so fast.

A strangled cry escaped her as she plummeted down to the earth. Angry teeth had clipped her heel and a pair of powerful jaws had grabbed her dress. She landed sharply on her side. Her ribs protested but she recovered as quickly as she could. But when she stood once more, a wolf with his jaws wide open, ready for the kill, leaped for her.

A gunshot sounded amd the bullet lodged itself clean in the wolf's skull.

Another shot and a dead weight yanked her back. Strong and familiar hands unhooked her brown coat the dead wolf still had in his grip and righted her, shoving her toward the crossroads.

She turned to see her rescuer- Gaston!

The familiar build of his shoulders was the last thing she expected to see- She barely had time to collect her wits before she caught the reins of Philippe and pulled herself back up. The horse neighed in fear as another hungry wolf leaped.

The hunter slapped Philippe and the horse charged off. Belle only faintly heard Gaston's curse of pain and another gunshot before the crossroads approached faster. He was a skilled hunter and a war hero - he could handle a few wolves. Still, it would be cruel to leave him. She contemplated of returning for him-

"Belle!"

All previous thoughts flew from her mind at the sight of Maurice. "Papa!" she cried in relief. He was there waiting for her, and the moment Philippe stopped, he rushed for her just as fast as she for him. They collided, embracing tightly.

"I'm so relieved you're alive," he muttered into her hair. "So relieved Gaston agreed to help me find you."

She let out a breathy laugh and pulled back to look at him - the only person she thought she would never see again.

"How did you escape?" he worried.

"They gave me a room. I used material that was in a wardrobe to make a rope. I escaped out the window." She glanced back at the path that led to the enchanted castle. "He doesn't know I've gone."

"And let's hope he doesn't care," Maurice added gratefully. He pulled her into another tight embrace.

She turned at the sound of heavy footsteps coming up the path. A relieved sigh of her own left her as Gaston appeared from the shadows.

Suddenly, she wasn't sure what to do. He had just saved her life but two days ago, he had been practically implying she marry him - that he could see himself living life as her husband. But she had turned him down because she wanted adventure and a better life than what the village had to offer.

But she got her taste of adventure.

And she didn't like it.

Still, he was the last person she had ever expected to save her. Then she scoffed to herself. He would yet again be hailed as a hero once they made it back to the village.

Nevertheless, when he neared, she spoke. "Thank you. For saving my life."

He shook his head as if it she need not thank him, as if it were second-nature for him to look after her. "It's no trouble, Belle." His voice was confident and his face held a reassuring smile. "Let's get back to Villeneuve. Get you fixed up."

Then he did something she thought he'd never in his right mind do.

He shrugged off his coat and placed it over her shoulders - her brown one still sat in the clutches of the dead wolf back down the path.

She watched him for a moment before she had to concentrate on stepping up into the carriage without aggravating her wounds. His steady hand on her back burned and she settled beside her father, catching his eye.

She was glad to see she wasn't the only one who was a bit addled by Gaston's strange behavior.

The ride to the Villeneuve had been uneventful. Belle huddled against Maurice and tried to keep her wounds as dry as possible. She also kept shooting glances at Gaston- He had a right nasty bite on his arm that he had hastily bound. And Lefou sat in the back, munching on his fingernails. Uneventful, but at least she was out of that castle.

Gaston had returned her and Maurice to their home, instead of the tavern which Belle had assumed he was headed. He ordered Lefou to fetch the doctor then he helped her from the carriage. Her face was hot with fever and her head clouded with pain. She was at least thankful she stayed conscious as Gaston wrapped his arm around her waist and led her into the house. Then she felt rather foolish right before passing out from the radiating pain.

Moderately bruised ribs, slight fever from being out in the cold, and ill with exhaustion - nothing life-threatening. Nothing a little rest couldn't cure.

She had been conscious for about three hours and the doctor had been gone for two before Gaston remarked about being a great hunter who doesn't and will never waste his time on rabbits - how he would be a loyal partner for a woman.

She winced. She wasn't prey. She would never be such prey, especially for him. He was brash and arrogant and she waved off his words. He seemed to let go of a sigh.

The sun had set and risen in the morning, and on the steps of her home, he was standing there, a bouquet of flowers in his hand with another hint and a confident smile on his lips.

She looked at him and hesitated. After a mere glance in his pleading grey eyes, she took the proffered gift but didn't acknowledge his words. She sent him on his way, ignoring the confused fluttering of her heart as she watched him feign confidence to hide his defeated ego as he walked the streets of the town.

The next day, Maurice was taking some fresh air after being cooped up in the basement working all day. Gaston bid the man good day before inquiring if Belle was in. Maurice regarded the man carefully then he nodded his head. The scrutiny did not pass Gaston and he changed his mind about asking Belle that day.

"Maurice…"

Belle heard voices speaking on the front porch. Papa had been gone for a very long while. She set down her sketchbook and opened the door. She stopped short. "Gaston."

The man in red flicked his eyes to her as he still carried on his conversation with Maurice. His mouth curved into that half-smile.

Belle made to return inside. But Papa stopped her - said he had to get back to work, said that Gaston wanted to speak to her, said to have fun. She did a double take as he passed. She opened her mouth to object but Gaston beat her to it.

His overconfident grin was on his face and he looked exceptionally pleased. He offered her his hand but she refused to take it. She folded her arms across her chest.

"Can I help you, Gaston?" she asked tersely.

He chuckled arrogantly. "So, Belle, my love, it's nothing elaborate but I meant what I said. I will be loyal and caring. And I can promise you I will protect and love you." He pulled out a thin gold band with a single ruby on it. "Will you marry me?"

She tried not to eye the ring suspiciously. Where on earth did he steal that from? What poor woman was now searching for her lost ring? She let out an uninterested laugh but tried not to give him an uneasy look.

"Gaston-" she prepared to argue.

"At least think about, Belle," he quickly spoke over her. "Please."

She pursed her lips and looked at him and he looked right back. She noticed his mouth was not set in a firm and annoyed and demanding line. The lines of his face were soft and calm. Though he stood there teetering on desperation, he also seemed… dare she say, patiently waiting for an answer.

Then his brow crinkled with another plead and she actually didn't have the heart to turn him down right then and there. "Fine. I'll think about it. I'll give you an answer tomorrow."

His hope skyrocketed.

"Good evening, Gaston," she said in parting. She backed into the house and closed the front door. She leaned against the door and groaned to herself.

But she had said she'd think about. She gave him her word.

Gaston had fought in the war and had returned, unlike many men who entered the war as young lads. He was hailed a hero by the town but he never willingly spoke of the soldiers he killed or the things he saw on the battlefield. The villagers were mad for stories and tales but he always seemed reluctant to share such nightmares, but they cheered and filled his tankard with ale. Who was he to turn down a good meal, good drink, and good company?

And since his return, he had been successful in his own way. He had established himself as a hunter who, at certain times of the year, received very good money for his kills. There weren't many successful men about, not many who could hold their own in a marriage bond, and not many who were as skilled as Gaston.

Besides, she had had her fill of adventure. She had her fill of searching for the prince in one of her fairytales. Gaston wasn't a prince - nowhere near one, but he was familiar... in this small provincial town. Familiar and safe.

He had his flaws, but he wasn't that awful beast. He was arrogant, but he treated her kindly. He was narcissistic but somewhere deep down (she hoped) he had the ability to be thoughtful.

And if what he said was true, then that would mean he was looking to settle down and have a family.

The next day, she found herself at the door of his room in the tavern. She had given him and his proposal a fair chance, mulled over the recent events, and had come to a conclusion.

And she was about to speak to him about said conclusion.

But she was a woman of dignity and independence, and she was not going to simply be his little wife...

"Compromises?!" he let out as soon as her position on his proposal left her mouth.

She sent him a look.

He scoffed hurriedly. "Belle, what is going on in that head of yours? Compromises?" He feigned offense. "Really, do I seem like the type of man who would marry only for looks?"

"Yes," her answer was quick and simple.

He narrowed his eyes and straightened. Then he realized he'd have to hear her out if she was to be his. "Very well, what are these 'compromises'?"

And he listened - or rather, he sat there pretending to pay attention - to all she had to say… which ended up being a quite lot. He caught bits and pieces, something about freedom, privacy, reading books, being seen as an equal..

Then when she finally finished and patiently waited for his response, he gave it without hesitation. He produced the simple band again.

She accepted.

He slid the ring onto her finger - a perfect fit.

She grew curious. "Where did you get the ring?"

Grey eyes met hers. They clouded with an emotion she could not explain for a mere second before they cleared. Had she not been watching him closely, she wouldn't have noticed. "It belonged to my mother. She gave it to me shortly before I left for the war, in hopes I could give it to.. you."

"Oh." Her cheeks heated and she felt guilty for thinking he had stolen it. She tried to remember what she looked like or what her name was, but it had been so long. The woman had passed away while he had been gone. "What was her name?"

"Agatha."

"Yes, right. I remember," she said quietly.

Gaston smiled then. He had finally succeeded in getting Belle to marry him. He also knew her 'compromises' or 'stubborn antics' wouldn't last long after they became husband and wife.

He just knew.

Only, she was headstrong and moody.

"I'm not moody, Gaston," she replied from the next room. "You are."

He folded his arms and harrumphed, only then thinking he should have been paying attention to all she had had to say.

Chapter Text

 

Belle stood from the soil in their young garden at the sound of a horse clopping down the road.

Gaston had told her as he left he'd be home by sundown. The sun was just setting but she did not imagine he'd be true to his word… perhaps it had been a coincidence. Yes, a coincidence, that's right.

The thought of going to greet him crossed her mind but she remained where she was. They had been married for a few months and certainly not long enough for her to greet him every time he spent hours away from home.

So she returned to her gardening.

As the horse got closer, she started to hear two sets of footsteps.

He- he hadn't brought along company, had he? Lefou was ill with a cold and Gaston had been weirdly adamant for the other to keep his distance from her... That was utter nonsense - she had been sick plenty times in her life. Keeping Lefou away was not at all necessary.

She stood again.

Gaston was wearing his overly confident toothy grin again - one that she rolled her eyes at and refused to encourage. But she noticed she was about to encourage it for he had a beautiful grey horse along.

Her mouth formed a surprised 'o' but no sound came out. She approached the road as he drew nearer and tried to avoid looking at his face but she couldn't help but form a shy and growing smile of her own.

"Who's this?" she asked. She wouldn't dare to get her hopes up… the only gifts she had received in her life were a few books and parchment and pencils and the rose she asked her father for every year.

And why would Gaston gift her a horse?

He dismounted his black stallion and untied the mare's reins. Then he carefully led the grey Percheron to her. "This is Daisy," he beamed, fully proud of himself. He just knew this was the sort of thing husbands did for their wives.

"Gaston…? I thought you said you were going into town for horseshoes." But she wasn't mad.

He shook his head, his mouth curved into that smirk she also didn't wish to encourage. "I saw her last time I was there. The blacksmith was selling her and another. She's yours."

"Really?" Her voice was heavy with disbelief.

He nodded. "You said you wanted freedom. Here is your gateway to freedom, my love."

She looked at him. She was speechless, barely managing to say his name in a small whisper. She pressed her hand to Daisy's shoulder, softly moving her fingers, trying to see if this was all real. Trying to understand that Gaston had just given her her very own horse.

The man dressed in his red leather jacket let out a chuckle and hoisted her up on Daisy. He brushed off her noise of protest and handed her the reins.

"Now?" she stuttered.

"Why not? Just a small ride." His smirk had turned into a boastful grin as if she'd be talking about his actions for weeks to come.

She smiled at him, truly encouraging his overconfident grin. "Gaston… thank you."

He didn't give a reply or a shake of his head. Instead, his eyes turned proud but kind. And his face was just a lean away, which meant his lips were- Belle straightened and she eased Daisy into a trot down the road to the rolling hills beyond their home.

His actions were thoughtful but didn't require a kiss. A simple thank you would do just fine - Belle told herself.

Chapter Text

 

"Ah, blissful married life!" Gaston breathed confidently as he and her stepped from the church. "Belle, what do you think? Shall we head back to the tavern where we can begin making sons that will be stuffed with every Gaston gene?"

"Not quite how I would have imagined it," she opposed.

He let out a hearty chuckle as if she would soon come to her senses about his suggestion. "Oh, Belle, come now. You don't want to start our first argument now, do you?"

She gave him a pointed look. "I prefer we talk and catch up on our lives before we do... that."

"What sort of talk do we need to do?" he asked terribly obnoxiously. "We have our whole lives for this talk-"

"And we have our whole lives for your activity," she interrupted. She smoothed out her dress to keep her hands busy. "Besides, I told you I would not simply be your little wife. Gaston, I wish to be treated as your equal-"

He grunted. "And you will!" Then he changed his voice from boastful to proud. "My Belle, my equal. Yes, that sounds about right!"

She glared at him. "I am quite serious about this, Gaston."

"To the tavern!" someone shouted behind them.

Though the ceremony had been small - hardly anyone aside from Maurice and Lefou showed up - the town was a little bit bigger and filled with eager men and women looking for free drinks and food. The celebration of Gaston's marriage just happened to be a bonus.

Before Belle had time to process and protest, Gaston lifted her onto his shoulder and joined in the group heading for the tavern. Men hollered and hooted around her while women cheered and the three silly girls cried and pleaded after Gaston, nearly grabbing hold of his red coat. He shrugged them off - still uninterested in their affection for him.

The great hunter had succeeded in making Belle his wife and that was all for him.

"To the newlyweds!" the tavern keeper shouted once all piled into the establishment, raising his pint. "I'm sure they're eager to escape away!"

Belle managed not to look disgusted as Gaston slung an arm around her shoulders. He raised his tankard in agreement before loudly announcing that they would be leaving the hall to do just that.

Her face did not appear scandalized. "Gaston!" she argued as he led her up to his room. She believed him to be drunk already.

His hand had a hold over hers, mostly to keep her from running away. He opened the door and she huffed inside, turning to him with a cold fire burning in her eyes.

"Gaston, I understand that you are a man and you have… needs… but I would…" She trailed off as she noticed he was not making any advancements towards her.

He shrugged off his army jacket and stepped forward to light the dark fireplace. Then to her surprise, he sat himself in the armchair in front of the fire.

Not that she was in the slightest complaining about the turn of events, but it did have her asking, "What are you doing?"

He gestured the empty seat across from him. "So talk."

"You're not going to try to bed me?" she dared in questioning.

He gave a shrug. "I maybe be self-centered but if you are to be my wife, I suppose I shall… what was it you called it the night I saved you?"

"Compromise?" she filled in.

"Ah, yes," he grinned. "That. Now sit and talk so we can get going on what I want to do."

She exhaled somewhat. Well, it was a start.

Chapter Text

 

"You are the most gorgeous thing I have ever seen-"

He was talking to himself about himself again, no doubt. Belle scoffed quietly as she passed him. He was sitting in the armchair with a mirror in his hands, most likely admiring the cleft in his chin or the curve of his jaw or his breathtaking eyes or his handsome hairline.

He was aware of her thoughts on his ritual and had heard her gentle scoff. He noticed when she passed him and he set down the mirror.

He watched her backside as she gathered clothes that had not quite made it to their respective baskets. He licked his lips. "You are the most gorgeous woman I have ever seen."

She turned around at that. A delicate and confused frown was to her face, and he stood to wipe it away. "I thought you were still talking about yourself," she mused lightly.

He stopped in front of her, his frame towering over her. His muscles visible beneath his loose white shirt, the one with the drawstrings he knew Belle couldn't keep her fingers away from. The longer they had been married, the less intimidating he became but the more devilishly sexy - and irresistible - he was. He grinned wolfishly - reading her thoughts.

She took a step back. No, she had loads of laundry to catch up on. She didn't have time to fool around with him… though she oh so wanted to. She knew he knew what that shirt did to her. And she knew he knew her quiet obsession for beards as she noted the thicker stubble ghosting his jawline longer than usual. She shook her head and returned to her… her work, yes that was right.

His eyes caught a loose strand of hair that did not quite make it into her ponytail. His fingers were at it before he knew it. He tucked it in back of her ear. Then he spoke, and when he spoke, the sultriness of his voice made her knees weak. "I mean it, Belle. I do not deserve you."

She froze for a second then recovered. Gaston would and had never been so easily humbled… openly admitting he was wrong in some way somehow. She looked at him and his grin.

"Flattery, Gaston, will get you nowhere." She tried to put on a brave face.

His grin didn't falter. He stepped closer and nuzzled her neck. "The kids are gone," he noted, snaking a bulky arm around her middle and pulling her flush against him.

"Gaston," she tried to complain.

His chest rumbled with a chuckle then he dropped small kisses on the back of her neck. "Belle," he whispered huskily, throatily.

Her body tingled at the deep baritone of his voice. She set down the laundry in defeat. "Oh, Gaston..." she sighed, giving into his touch.


His familiar weight on top of her was bliss.

He traced the bite mark on her shoulder with a thick finger before ducking his head and running his tongue across the teeth marks.

She moaned and threaded her fingers across his scalp and through his hair. "Nobody bites like Gaston."

He grinned and huskily agreed, "Darn right."

Chapter Text

 

Her breath hitched and she tried to hide her sickness from the children and Gaston. She couldn't be… they couldn't have another… they were too old to take care of a newborn. Their youngest Amelia was six! She was meant to be the last one.

"Belle?" she heard Gaston's voice call her. He sounded confused and a little worried.

She shook her head, wiping the corner of her mouth with the back of her hand, and pleaded a short, "Leave me alone," as she headed straight for the bedroom. She slammed the door behind her.

The waterworks began and she curled beside the bedpost on the floor. She brought her knees to her chest and continued to sob. She was pushing forty-five for goodness sake! And still Gaston and her managed to have a little accident… Who was she kidding? He was the sort of man spouses couldn't keep their hands off of. It was a wonder all of their children hadn't been surprises.

The door unceremoniously swung open and she started.

Tear-tracks lined her troubled face but she still managed to angrily spit out, "Don't you ever knock!"

She hadn't expected a response from him and she didn't get one.

He ignored her and crossed the room, kneeling before her. He gently took her hands in his despite her protests and half-hearted and half-bitten "get away from me." He brought her knuckles to his lips and softly pressed her skin. Then he pulled her into him where her cries grew louder, thankful that he was not angry about it all.

Her bottom lip trembled and her voice hiccupped as she tried to ask, "H-how did you know?"

"You've been sick all week," he replied. "And the children aren't affected." He shrugged then pulled back. He looked at her - grey eyes uncertain. "I thought you couldn't-"

"So did I," she sighed weakly. She rested her head in the crook of his neck, still trembling. She relished in the feeling of his bulky arms around her… twenty-one years of marriage and Gaston had come around from being less all-about-him to caring.. and dare she say compassionate.

Silence settled between them for several minutes.

Then she shifted, playing with the ruffles of his white shirt under his waistcoat. "You want another son?"

Of course! That was the phrase on the tip of his tongue.

He let out a harsh breath and he remembered what happened before with Cedric and Amelia. He remembered how her face had gone deathly pale and there had been so much blood… It had truly taken him one more child to realize he would be lost without her.

"As long as I have you in the end, I do not care anymore," he grunted.

She hiccuped and her tears started up again. He pressed a kiss into her hair and held her tightly.

Chapter Text

 

Belle kept her nose down and busied herself at the market, looking at jams and breads. She tried to mind her own business every time she ventured into town, but it seemed that since becoming the wife of the most handsome man in the village - or a boorish and brainless man as Papa thoughtfully reminded her - and living (at the moment) eighteen miles from the rest of the people still gave them cause to gossip.

"Have you heard?" a woman said in a hushed voice.

Others flocked toward her and Belle minded her own, only perking up when she caught a certain phrase.

"... robbed Lilith and Tom of everything they had. Thieves, in the countryside." Her voice held contempt and Belle could tell they were watching her. With hunting season nearing an end, Gaston and her had been spending time out in the country at his lodge. "Perhaps their next move will be miles from Villeneuve."

She knew their comment was aimed at her. But she straightened as if she didn't hear them and wished them a good day before she left.

The gossipers conversation stayed with Belle most of the evening, to the point she decided to go to her husband for help - without actually stating said help - on the matter. "Gaston," she started, leaning over his shoulder to watch him clean his pistols.

He grunted.

"What say I take you up on your offer? To teach me how to shoot… a gun."

He stopped his work and looked at her. "Really?"

"I've thought about it and I suppose it wouldn't hurt to learn." Oh she thought about it, and if those robbers were real, she didn't want to be helpless.


The air was too calm...

Gaston had been out all afternoon, said it was a fine day for one last hunt. He had kissed her, told her he loved her, and bid her goodbye before heading for the forest not a half a mile away with his rifle slung across his back. She had told him to stay safe and those four words she should say in return - like every wife tells their husband - tingled on her lips but she couldn't bring herself to speak for though he made her heart flutter, she still did not feel it in her soul.

An odd feeling settled over her and she felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. She hoped nothing had happened to him-

She looked to the town which was a clump of trees in the distance. She could vaguely make out the bridge that crossed the river and led into the village. A small smile tugged at her lips - out of all the towns across the French countryside, her father had chosen that one.

And hadn't he, she would have never met and eventually married Gaston.. and she most certainly would have never found herself smitten with their little love growing inside her.

It had been five weeks ago...

The axe came down on the unsuspecting block of wood, instantly halving it.

Belle winced at the loud noise as she exited the house. She wiped her hands on her apron and carefully made her way to the back where Gaston had set up another block. She cleared her throat and he turned his head when the block had been cut.

"Supper's ready," she recited, a bit wobbly.

He gave a nod, his eyes raking over her in vague confusion. He set the axe against the house and followed her inside.

She was extremely conscious of his presence behind her. She had practiced this for the past few hours. She was ready to tell him that she had missed her regularly monthly bleeds starting six weeks ago.

Butterflies filled her stomach and nerves crawled up her throat, threatening her to be sick.

The sound of the door closing behind Gaston made her jump. She tried to correct herself before he asked, before his question tempted her to run.

But then she had to remind herself: she had married the man, surely he would know that this is the next course of nature they must take. Surely he would be alright with her news-

Her hip hit the corner of the table and she stumbled a bit.

"You okay?" he asked for this was unlike her.

She nodded, not trusting her voice. She went into the kitchen while he rinsed his hands - she had taught him proper table manners shortly after their first day as husband and wife.

She heard his boots return back to the dining room and she took a deep breath.

Everything was going to be fine.

She gripped the pot of stew in her hand and carried it to the table. She didn't look up but could tell he was standing on the other side. She waited for him to sit - she was still used to prematurely serving Papa and then having him spill when he accidentally bumped the table.

He sat then watched her fill his bowl. His eyes were at her wrist then her fingers, where they seemed to uncontrollably shake. A question was on his tongue and the splatter of stew hitting the tabletop and jumping inches had him asking it, "Are you alright?"

She nodded again, so much less convincing than before. She set the pot down. "I'm sorry," she said about the spill. "I'll clean it-"

He caught her wrist.

She blinked from her haze of nerves. His grip was gentle. "Gaston-"

His grey eyes were serious. He was gravely concerned. He had only just made her his wife less than a year ago - if something was bothering her, surely he could fix it and make her happy again. "What is it?" he asked, his brow creased and his mouth in a loose frown. He turned in his chair and tugged her closer until she was standing right beside him.

She bit her lip and looked away. "I-" She swallowed and took a shaky breath. Her brown eyes met his. "I-I'm with child."

She carefully watched him-

A wide grin broke out on his face a split second before his arm retracted quickly and she fell onto his lap. Her cry of surprise was muffled as his lips hungrily collided with hers.

She wrapped her arms around his neck and felt herself smile widely - he wasn't angry, he wasn't upset, he was happy! And that's all she ever hoped for.

She let out a content laugh and he grinned.

He pulled back and his hands went to her back and knees. Then he stood.

"But supper-"

He held her securely in his arms. "Leave it," he growled seductively in her ear. Her face heated and she caught his lips again.

"My first son!" he exclaimed, placing her on the bed then hovering over her.

"Or girl-" she objected, her hands fiddling with the drawstring of his shirt.

He chuckled arrogantly and shucked off his waistcoat. "Oh, Belle, don't be ridiculous- Gaston genes only make sons!"

She shook her head at the memory and busied herself in grooming the front yard. Though she and Gaston only stayed at the lodge for a few months out of the year, she still wanted the lodge to be presentable in their absence.

It was a good-sized lodge placed on top of a hill, with the forest to the side at its base, and it would have been worth quite a lot had Gaston not personally known the previous owner. Certainly with some more tidying up, she wouldn't be against to visiting the lodge more often. It was quiet, peaceful, secluded, not one village gossiper in sight!

And as Gaston pointed out nearly every day in one form or another... It is a big enough lodge, Belle, for more than just the two of us! Even more than one child! We could fill it with six or seven strapping young lads, like me! We could move from the village and make a life out here! I can teach the boys-

She sent him a hard look.

"- and the girls to fight and hunt! You can teach them how to read and write!"

In a few years perhaps, but she wasn't ready to leave her father just yet.

"I can extend the house- build an extra room on the side- he can live here with us-"

She shook her head. She couldn't quite imagine the three of them getting along under one roof. It would work out in the beginning but if she and Gaston were butting heads every so often, she knew her husband would be fighting for dominance of his own household.

"No, Papa will have to learn to live on his own." She chewed her lip then. He had been thoughtful. "But thank you, Gaston."

Her fingers shook and the shovel fell from her grip. She jumped at the noise when it hit the ground. The peaceful serenity this place provided shattered at the sound of a broken and echoed howl.

It had come from the direction of the town.

x.x.x

She knew the villagers could not defend themselves quickly should a wild animal wreak havoc - that had been Gaston's doing.

She remembered clearly when a rabid wolf charged the square:

The villagers scrambled for shelter with a few men reaching for their pitchforks but never venturing more than a few meters from their front doors. She had just left the library when the ruckus broke out. She watched the wolf charge with bared and watery teeth at anyone that was left. From the other side of the square, she saw Gaston mount the fountain and aim his rifle, shooting the rabid animal in the back. The town cheered, and by that point, Belle had rolled her eyes and continued home.

But whatever had plagued them this time would surely not be so bold as to run eighteen miles to them. She went on about her business.

She kept working. The thought of the roar she heard replaying in the back of her mind. It and the conversation she heard of those thieves started to nag at her nerves-

She set the shovel against the lodge and went inside and into the bedroom. She pulled out the chest underneath and found Gaston's spare pistol and round of bullets. She shoved it into her dress pocket and went back to her work outside.

That made her feel a bit better.

The countryside had been quiet in the near hour that followed to the point where she almost had forgotten that little noise from the town. But she would never forget the deep, reverberating roar that shook the ground.

She remembered that awful sound...

Gaston stood stock-still behind a tree, his rifle aimed between its branches. His breath was silent but his determination was loud. He had been tracking the single deer for hours and finally he had caught up to it. He waited for the precise moment - when the creature had turned itself away, when he had a clear shot of the liver.

His finger quivered over the trigger. He didn't have time for mistakes. This was his last day hunting for the next several months, not until next year most likely. He needed to hit this unsuspecting creature. He needed to haul it home where he could please Belle with his exquisite kill that only an experienced hunter like himself was capable of. He needed to-

The deer bolted and he cursed.

He hadn't made a sound, what could have- The hairs on his neck stood straight as his ears took in the throaty echo of a maddening roar. He lowered his rifle and turned his head. It sounded similar to a bear but not quite. It also sounded in the direction of the lodge.

But he knew the animals of the forest hardly ventured from the comfort of their bounds. The bears had moved on months ago, he had made sure most had left the area before suggesting to Belle that they spend time out in the country.

He couldn't have missed a large group, could he?

He looked to the sky between the trees. Sunset. He had said he'd be at the treeline by sunset. With a grunt, he started for the edge of the forest. His ears still listening intently for any other unnatural sounds.

Belle swallowed.

It had been at least a year since she heard that awful sound- it couldn't be. But the roar was unmistakable.

It was the same roar that demanded to know who she was, that dragged her father from the dungeons while she took his place, that none too lightly wanted her to join him for dinner-

Her rapid heartbeat filled her ears. She thought he hadn't noticed or not cared at all about her absence... If he had, she imagined he would have been after her sooner. Why now? Why did he choose to chase her now?

She rested her hand over her abdomen and looked the treeline of the woods where Gaston had said he'd be toward sunset. She was well aware she should abandon the lodge and find him, the man who was experienced at hunting, at pulling the trigger of a gun with the intent to kill. But her feet didn't budge.

It had been her to rescue her father, not him. It had been her who stood defiant against that beast, not him. It had been her who had escaped that enchanted castle. She would face the consequences of her actions alone.

She had faced this monster once, she could do it again.

She saw the beast's form- his...

His clothes were nothing but shreds that managed to still cling on. He wore no cape.

His paws were large and meaty and lined with sharp jagged claws, ready to slice her head clean off. His teeth were bared and yellow- He had servants at that enchanted castle, but it seemed nothing was kept up as he charged up the hill, to the lodge, to her.

Her feet stumbled and carried her away from the lodge - she didn't want the beast ripping it apart.

The ground shook even more and she vaguely became aware she should have gotten Gaston for it sounded like the creature wasn't going to stop.

Her breath hitched as it finally came into view. Her heart pulsed her skin and she could see his eyes-

Black, beady, inhuman.

Uncaring, unfeeling, beastly.

Her fingers shoved a bullet into the pistol and she raised her arms.

This wasn't the same beast that had imprisoned her father and then her- It was, but he was no longer human inside.

And it was going to kill her.

Her finger twitched and the bullet flew across the air, grazing its shoulder. It roared in protest and she reloaded in haste while her feet stumbled away.

Gaston stood in the shadow of a tree, his eyes trained in the growing darkness of the forest. He watched for movement, for anything that would be the excuse for the unexplained fear that gripped at his gut. He wasn't used to such feelings and the sooner the reason showed itself, the better-

His head swiveled to the direction of the lodge.

A monstrous roar pierced his ears.

His heart jumped into his throat- then a single gunshot sounded. He took off without a second thought.

Belle ran a bit more. Then she turned and raised her arms again, firing.

The creature - seemingly pulled by her overwhelming scent, one that she left in the castle, one that surely it picked up after his humanity abandoned him - lunged.

It nearly caught her skirts but she managed out of the way in time. The pistol skidded from her grip and it rounded on its hind paws, running for her again. She reloaded and staggered to her feet, stumbling backwards. She raised her arm, her finger about to pull the trigger-

A louder gunshot distracted her and she turned to see Gaston lower his rifle.

A breath she didn't know she had been holding in left her.

The beast had been struck in the chest and it let out another roar.

Gaston dashed to her and pulled her behind him then raised his rifle again. His shoulders were tense and his body was rigid. His upper lip curled in rage as he took in the sight of the ugly beast.

He would not move.

He had fought beasts of another kind during the war and that was to protect his unit. Now, he would protect his wife and unborn son from being slaughtered by this monster.

But the beast did not charge like Belle predicted. Instead, it took note of another scent - another person standing in its way. It stood unnervingly still with a disturbingly calm determination. Its piercing eyes were black and glaring angrily at the two.

Gaston fired again - the bullet entered its chest and should have struck its heart.

There would be no mercy for this creature that nearly stopped him from having Belle as his wife.

But he had missed.

And was unprepared.

A strong arm swiveled, claws - outstretched and daunting - dove for his head.

He ducked out of the way, bringing Belle down with him and pushing her aside. But he wasn't fast enough - he let out a grunt of pain.

"Gaston!" he heard her cry.

He shrugged off the deepening scarlet of his sleeve and reloaded his rifle. Belle was a safe distance away, still on the ground and gun in hand. He aimed for the beast's chest again. This time he would not miss-

Another shot sounded.

The beast fell back dead, a bullet lodged in its skull.

He panted and lowered his rifle. Belle was at him in a matter of seconds. She shoved the pistol into his hands and then her own clutched at the lapels of his jacket. Her knuckles turned white as she tightened her grip on him, making sure he was really there and still standing.

His grey eyes met her troubled face and creasing brow. "Did you-" He couldn't bring himself to finish the question.

She nodded and unfurled her hand, hovering it over the slashes that went through the material of his jacket, the slashes on his arm that were seeping blood-

He caught her fingers and inspected her for injuries. Finding none, he stepped back and looked down at the creature - his demeanor glazed over with amazement.

"Exquisite hide," he muttered in awe of the carcass. He stooped beside it and ran his fingers through its fur and continued to be amazed at every angle of the dead beast. "A rug or to hang on our wall?"

He looked up at Belle, waiting for her to answer his question. She shook her head. "No…"

He pursed his lips and hummed. "But it's a prize."

Just when she thought he could be heroic and protective of his family without getting muddled in the need for some sort of trophy, she was wrong. She couldn't look at that beast and feel the same as he.

She shook her head again. "Please, Gaston." Her tone was tired and pleading.

She waited for him to ignore her and carry it toward the lodge. She waited for him to prepare the head to hang with the other buck antlers' he kept on the wall. She waited for him to scoff and say she would come to her senses about that beast and that she would soon see it as a prize like he.

She waited.

Then maybe she should wait before assuming any certain behavior on him. Maybe he could change that much.

He stood and looked at it for a long while.

"Gaston?" she dared in questioning.

"Can I at least take the horns?" he asked, half of his mouth curved into a sort of smile as he tried for her approval again.

Though her head shook, she knew he would keep trying. So she relented. "If you must, but I cannot bear to see it."

Chapter Text

 

"So, what was it? Another son?" Lefou asked casually, finding the third-time father sitting in the tavern with an untouched tankard of ale in front of him.

"A girl."

"Gaston, are you okay?" Belle asked as she held her newborn daughter close. She was propped up in their bed, the midwife still at the foot of the bed, and Gaston - who had stood beside her the entire way through - had fallen very pale and very quiet.

Lefou did a double take then said, with a very amusing voice, "Ah, I see. And how are you handling it?" though he could see the answer clear as day how the man was handling it.

"It was a girl, Lefou."

Her voice turned near desperate as she tried to coax him from his mind. "Gaston, we've talked about this-" She saw the hopeless look in his grey eyes and feared this would be the last time she would see him. "You won't reject our daughter… But you honestly couldn't have expected another son..."

Lefou nodded. "Yes, I am aware of the other gender. In fact, I think your wife is a girl."

Gaston was in too deep to realize his good friend was making jokes. "I do not know what to do."

"When was the birth?" he asked.

"Two hours ago."

She struggled to sit up further as if her actions would stop him from moving. "Where are you going?"

Where was he going? His feet just started to lead him from the room, away from his wife and new.. daughter. He glanced at her quickly, a strand of his perfectly kept hair falling in front of his face. "I need some air," he grunted before disappearing.

The shorter man tried not to be surprised. "And you left her? Oh, that's low."

Gaston was at a loss for words. "A girl, Lefou. My genes… my Gaston genes created a girl. A girl!"

Belle crushed his hand in hers as she pushed one final time. Gaston was eager to see yet another son slide into the midwife's waiting hands. He watched the baby enter the world and then.. his blood cooled in his veins as he noticed it was not a boy at all.

"Congratulations," the midwife announced. "A beautiful daughter."

Belle let out a cry of happy relief and squeezed his hand again, this time as she used him as leverage to sit up and see her newborn.

He stepped back and watched her face change with love - the same love she had for their two sons. Her smile was wide and her brown eyes were happy as she took in every inch of her little girl. She opened her arms and took the awaiting bundle, cradling the crying child close to her chest. He watched her live the happiness of finally having a girl and he managed a smile - or at least he hoped it was a smile - when she looked up at him. For all he knew, he could be wincing.

And he must've been doing just that for her smile faded.

"Gaston…"

Lefou unknowingly echoed Belle's words. "You couldn't have been so sure it was going to be another boy."

Gaston shrugged. "I was confident," he said not so confidently. He stood suddenly and Lefou quirked a curious eyebrow.

"And where are you off to?"

"I have some things to do," he said hastily before ducking out of the tavern.

Worry gnawed its way into Belle's gut from the moment Gaston left for 'some air' to now, nearly three hours later. She was just about to step outside and go in search of him herself when a timid knock came from the front door.

She checked on her sleeping daughter before answering. She opened the door and found Gaston looking a little worse for wear - his hair unkempt and coming loose from his tie and his grey eyes were dark and tired and unsure.

"Where've you been?" she asked quietly. She didn't move to let him enter the house. She wanted an explanation.

He didn't reply but instead produced a bouquet of flowers and a book that had been in their house numerous times before - Belle's favorite.

Astonished, shocked, conflicted, and very concerned all at once, Belle took the offered parcels and stepped aside. Her mouth couldn't form sentences or even coherent words for a while. She watched her husband step into their house as if he were a stranger to it all.

"G-Gaston, why the flowers? And the book?" she finally got out. "I won't have time to read it for a long while."

What he could barely recall about his mother and the man that was not his cruel father better have been right. "Apology for leaving so suddenly, and to say I love you. I-" His face was warm with embarrassment. "I bought the book… from Pere Robert."

Her jaw dropped. She quickly recovered. "Why?"

He shrugged and actually looked quite shy. Belle fought the urge to demand who he was and what had he done with her narcissistic, boastful, arrogant, overconfident husband! "Figured you enjoy it so much every time you bring it home… maybe it will become her favorite too. Maybe you could teach our daughter to read just like our sons."

Hormones. She blamed the hormones.

She set the flowers and book aside and wrapped her arms around his neck, promptly crying into him. He accepted their daughter - that was all that mattered. His arms encircled her waist and held her still. They stood there for several minutes before Belle remembered.

"We still haven't given her a name."

Gaston looked at the book resting on the table. Romeo and Juliet. "What about Julia?"

She followed his gaze and smiled. "Julia. That's perfect."

Chapter Text

 

Belle hoisted Nathaniel on her hip as hooves sounded just outside the village walls.

Gaston had been gone for five weeks on his annual hunting trip with old army buddies.

She caught sight of his familiar red leather jacket and her chest tightened in anticipation of greeting him. She nervously tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. She bounced Nathaniel and pointed, "There's Papa," she told him with a happy smile. "We missed Papa very much, didn't we love?"

"Pa-pa," eight-month-old Nathaniel squealed.

Belle kissed his chubby cheek. "Good boy."

She watched from her spot hidden in the crowd. Nerves were shaking her and all she wanted was her husband to dismount his horse and make his way to her. But she was too deep in the crowd - he would not see her.

His absence had wrecked her.

From the moment Gaston slid that ring on her finger in the empty church, she knew she would never - not in a million years - turn into one of those wives:

The ones that watched the window constantly to see when their husbands rode up to the house.

The ones that cried themselves to sleep because the bed was cold and empty.

The ones that wept when their husbands returned after long journeys.

The ones that told their husbands the moment they set foot through the door that there was no other man in the whole world for them.

The ones that forbade their husbands to leave like that again for it tore them apart to be separated.

No. Belle just knew she would never be like them.

Gaston and her were so different! He was forward and arrogant. She was kind but fierce. They butted heads more often than not - it was more of a roommate relationship rather than a husband/wife relationship.. wasn't it?

But he had done what he could to please her… and how had she acted in return?

In the back of her mind, she knew these five weeks to herself had been what was best. It showed her what was sitting right in front of her nose.

The first week had been fine. She went about her usual business - taking care of Nathaniel, doing chores around the house, and preparing supper. But when the second week rolled around, she found her heart had begun to ache.

Gaston would normally rise early at the start of the week. He'd tend to both Daisy and Magnifique and visit her early-riser father a few houses away. Then when the villagers woke, he'd take a walk about the market, picking up a jar of Belle's favorite jam and glancing briefly at the fine handwoven materials Belle insisted he need not buy.

He'd return home where he'd join Nathaniel on the floor. He'd lie on his side and let their son clamber on him with strong fists and legs. He'd watch struggling six-and-a-half-month old Nathaniel fist his little hands in the sleeve of his shirt and pull himself up. His hand would ghost over his son's back, careful to catch him should he fall but not enough pressure to hold him upright. Belle would watch from her stance in the kitchen, cleaning the dishes, making the room spotless for the mess of supper. Eventually, Nathaniel would fall back and Gaston would gently guide him to the floor again, a proud and beaming chuckle rumbling his chest.

The next day, Belle would wake alone but she knew he'd be in the town-square, pumping water into two large buckets. He'd haul them home then set to work in the outskirts of Villeneuve, chopping wood, scavenging for wild berries that she could add to their garden, hunting a few hares for the baker who paid good money for them. She'd be mashing Nathie's food by the time he would walk in the front door, sweat beading his upper lip and brow.

He'd pass through and into the kitchen, kiss her temple, and snatch up a rag and wipe at his sweaty skin. She'd turn and scold him, telling him to use another cloth, one that wasn't meant for wiping clean dishes. He'd snort out a response and grin and take the rag with him as he headed for the door again.

But she'd stop him just as he stepped outside. He'd return, the same curious question always in his eyes. She'd hand him a glass of clean and cool water. And as she lie in bed during his absence, she realized that the curious look in his eyes always faltered, turning hurt for a brief moment before lighting up with soft humor as he took the glass. Then he'd hand the cup back to her and his fingers would brush hers and a blush would dust his cheeks ever so lightly.

He'd be gone until sunset when he'd join her for supper. His mood would be content but then supper conversation would be quiet. Both would watch with love and curiosity as Nathie tried new foods - some would be a hit, others a miss, but both held a smile for their son.

After supper, he'd pick up her drawings of new inventions only to have them snatched from his hands. He'd follow her and begin to pry but only get an armful of Nathaniel instead. She would curl up on the armchair in the living room and he'd tend to the fire. Nathie would begin to mumble a few incoherent words before Gaston would urge him to say "Mama" or "Papa". Belle would smile but continue to scribble down ideas.

Soon, Nathie would be asleep and she and Gaston would turn in for the night. This night would be uneventful as his day was long, but he would be there.

The days that followed until a new week began were nearly alike.

She would wake with him still lying beside her, a soft smile on his face - one that a man who struggled in courting his long love had. Some days, Nathaniel would be in his arms, freshly bathed and fed. She would curl into Gaston's side and watch Nathaniel bask in the attention. Then her mind would drift to the idea of having another child…

The sun would reach their window and she'd rise for the day. She would head to the market, sometimes with Nathaniel on her hip and sometimes with the company of Gaston. She'd do her usual purchasing bread, buying some eggs, and giving Agathe a few spare coins.

But when she didn't have spare coins, she gave Agathe half of her bought bread - now that she had an extra mouth to feed of her own.

"No jam?" was the usual reply from the woman.

To which Gaston's bitten reply is barely contained. But Belle was always quick and calm and collected. She would hand Agathe a jar with no fuss.

"Thank you!"

"You're welcome," she would smile. Then she'd yank Gaston's arm and they'd walk home, all the while listening to him mutter about how ungrateful Agathe, for being a beggar, was!

"She should be thankful you gave her a piece of your bread! Wanting jam? She has no right to make such demands!" And he would continue to huff and puff until they entered the house and Nathaniel's eyes grew droopy.

They'd put him down for his nap in comfortable silence. His rant pushed aside as she let his words slide. It was Gaston after all - he was candid. Very candid.

Chores were done throughout the day and then supper would be made. Then they'd retire for the night.

He'd already be under the covers by the time she returned after checking on Nathie one last time. She'd slide beside him and he'd tug her close. She'd resist much and he'd relent a bit after a light struggle. She'd fall asleep, her face several inches away from his but during his absence, she wished she had spent those nights pressed into his warmth.

In short, these five weeks had been torture. She couldn't believe how eager she was to see his haughty smile and that swell cleft in his chin and his bursting ego. Though she still so loathed to encourage his faults, his long absence-

Her breath hitched as he drew near.

She winded her way through the maze of gathered and cheering villagers - to the fountain. She reached its stone and pulled herself up. From her new perch, she could see Gaston and his boastful grin as he trotted through.

He and the others were headed for the square where they would surely announce that the hunt had been a success and all would feast upon the spoils! But Gaston's horse took a turn.

Belle's heart was in her throat as she realized he had seen her. She gripped Nathaniel tighter and tried to swallow past the lump in her throat. She may have changed about missing him over a long while but she would not be one of those wives and weep at their reunion.

But seeing his standard smile transform into his overconfident grin that seemed to be reserved for her, had tears forming in her eyes. She knew it was over - she'd make a fool of herself and cry.

Magnifique stopped and he was there. His grin turned softer and the corners of his eyes crinkled softly. He was truly smiling with his eyes and she managed a watery one in return.

He hadn't been expecting her to be there - she never had before. He would leave Villeneuve for a week at most and when he returned, she would be at home tending to things around the house. She would be completely immersed in her work, not bothering to greet him with a kiss when he walked through the door. Seeing her here now was certainly a surprise.

"Belle-" His voice sounded surprised but confident and throaty all at once.

And it broke her.

She sniffled. Her tears were already falling. She reached up to him with her free arm and wrapped it around his neck, anchoring her hand in the dip where his neck met his shoulders. She struggled in composing herself, but his familiar scent of warmth and woods had fresh tears form and soak his skin.

He was slightly taken aback. These unexpected tears of hers startled him. With his strong arm, he lifted her effortlessly onto the saddle in front of him. He creased his brow as her shoulders shook uncontrollably with every sob.

A pit of uneasiness settled in his gut as he held her. He looked at Nathaniel, worried that something had happened to their son while he was gone, but the boy's pallor appeared healthy… though he too was worried of his mother's sudden tears.

He attempted in a gentle tone but feared it sounded protective and harsh. "What is it, my love?"

She pulled back, noting that his hand pressed further into the small of her back. Making sure she didn't fall backwards from Magnifique's great height. She shifted Nathaniel whose arms immediately clung to her neck - his way of thanking that she was okay. She softly ran her hand along the side of Gaston's face. "I… I missed you," she sighed in quiet admittance.

The worried crease that tugged at the corners of his mouth and at his brow softened and soon he let out a chuckle. "Then what's all this for?" he asked through his laughter.

Her brown eyes were still watery. She shrugged.

His chuckle dwindled as her eyes were not filled with the mirth he was expecting. "Belle."

So much for not being one of those wives… "Because I was a mess-

"The first week, I've done it before, but the second week… I missed our nights together. I missed you bringing home pheasant for supper." Her voice was getting wobbly again. "I missed your hearty laugh and your- that smile of yours.

"I missed those sweet kisses you'd give me everyday even though I hardly deserved them, because I do have my moods and I've treated you unfairly-" Her tears fell again. "All you've done is love and care for me and our son.

"And I thought I would marry you because I had mulled it over. I thought I would because you were familiar. I thought I would only gain a friend... I thought I would continue my life as my own but-" She placed her hand on the side of his face, ghosting her thumb over the curve of his chin. "I love you, Gaston."

... had he heard right?

He had been repeating- insisting! those words to her since they were married. Twenty-two long months he had told her and not once had he gotten a response. He had been coming around to the fact that he might not ever get one. And that would eventually be fine.

She was his wife, but that didn't mean she had to fall in love with him.. Right?

She was outspoken and he was candid but both were determined and stubborn. She was determined in not encouraging his behavior. He was determined in pleasing and charming her.

Twenty-two long months and the words had finally passed her lips. And he felt proud and a little smitten.

"Say it again," he requested more than demanded. His voice was deep.

She bit her lip and exhaled, "I love you."

A grin grew on Gaston's face, and suddenly Belle was aware at how close their faces were. She licked her lips in anticipation. It was happening. This was happening-

Nathaniel let out a small wail and buried his face in Belle's neck. Gaston grew rigid and alert and Belle tightened her hold on their son. It didn't take long for Gaston to see who his son was hiding from.

"Captain Aloïs," he greeted.

"Captain Gaston," Aloïs said in return. "Madame." He nodded and tipped his hat to Belle in greeting. "Are you joining us at the tavern? Jérémie is set to leave later. We'd thought you'd already be there!"

Gaston chuckled, his hand absentmindedly joining Belle's against Nathaniel's back. "I was on my way." He stole a glance at Belle. His mouth curved into another boastful half-smile and his chin raised a bit. "Took a detour."

Aloïs laughed. "Well, beggin' your pardon for startling the little guy." He tipped his hat again. "See you there, Gaston."

"Aye," he returned.

Belle turned and watched the other man trot to the stables to retire his horse. "I suppose you want to join them for one last drink?" she said, raising an eyebrow.

True. That's what he had planned. But Gaston wasn't going to let her first admission of love go unnoticed, unanswered, unrewarded, unravaged. He grunted, "Maybe later."

She laughed lightly. "What does that mean?"

He grinned overconfidently, showing lots of teeth.

He urged Magnifique forward. Belle settled comfortably against him and held Nathaniel snugly as the horse moved. She soon noticed where he was headed. Her face heated.

He swayed with the movement of the horse. His lips were pursed arrogantly. His chin was still raised high and his shoulders were set with determination and pride and desire. "Maurice. Is that ol' bean home?"

She lifted her head, blushing as her father's house neared. "Yes."

He took advantage of the access and bit her earlobe. She started. "I love you too, my beauty," he whispered huskily.

Chapter Text

 

His hat tumbled from his head at the sudden breeze. He kept riding, not bothering in turning back. But his conscience got the better of him. He pulled the reins hard and Magnifique neighed loudly in protest.

Halfway to the hat lying on the dirt road, Gaston jumped off and snatched it up. He didn't care what creases his tight grip left behind on the material - he had more important matters at hand.

He caught Magnifique's reins again and pulled himself up. He kicked the heel of his boots into the horse and urged him sharply.

He was about a mile from town. He hoped he would make it in time.

"Belle," Maurice sighed. "You really must stay off your feet-"

She pressed a kiss to Gilbert before she handed him over to her father. "It's just a trip to the market, Papa. Honestly, what could go wrong?" She beamed as Nathaniel held up the wooden toy Gaston carved for his fourth birthday. She bent as best she could and hugged him tightly, smooshing his face with a kiss.

Maurice let out an indignant and exasperated puff of air. "I'll tell you what could go wrong. You could get tired. You could have a fall. The villagers, particularly the men of this town, could take advantage of you-"

She stood straight. "Papa, you're worrying too much."

"And Gaston, where is he? He should be here not out in the woods hunting! It seems to me that he hunts more and more because he wants to get away from his family!"

Belle looked as if that was not the first time someone had brought the subject up. "There's a very wealthy man staying at the tavern. He's offered Gaston seventy livres for the largest buck he can find. That sort of money will keep us going for months. He wouldn't need to hunt for a long while," she explained. "During which time he shall be a father to our three children."

Maurice made a grumble. "Yes, alright. But you should rest, Belle-"

"I feel perfectly fine," she lied. Her back hadn't stopped aching and she could hardly remember a time when her ankles weren't hurting.. perhaps she could get Gaston to rub them when he returned.

He still looked unconvinced.

"Bye, Papa," she said, knowing there wasn't much else to back up her act.

Gilbert, just about two, reached for her as she turned for the door. He hardly ever cried but at the moment, his bottom lip began to wobble.

"Oh, Gilby," she pouted for him. "My baby, you'll see me again soon."

"Soon?" Maurice questioned.

She waved off her words, "You know what I mean." She kissed his head. "I love you, my little one. You and Nathie be good for Granpapa."

The dirt road curved into the village and turned to cobblestone. He slowed down as best he could and leaped off Magnifique's back at the fountain. He practically pushed the horse into the stables. He haphazardly tied the horse to a post before enduring the usual crowd of villagers.

Except, he hadn't time for niceties and manners. Villagers who got in his way were plowed over or knocked aside. He didn't look back. His mind was in a haze and he couldn't hear the curses and shouts that many threw his way.

He had to get home.

Agathe's warm smile was the first thing Belle saw as she made her way down he road. "Any day now, love?" she beamed. It seemed the impending arrival of a new young soul in their village was something she was excited for.

Belle smiled. "Yes."

Then Agathe continued with a teasing shake of her head. "Shame your husband's out hunting. Again. It seems that's all he does!"

The brunette playfully rolled her eyes. "That's Gaston for you."

The older woman tsked, "He should be at home same as you, waiting for the birth of his child."

Belle managed out a laugh. She knew Agathe wasn't particularly fond of Gaston and Gaston held those feelings mutual. She shifted her basket, trying to keep herself busy as oppose to paying attention to the ache in her back. "Well, he is paid good money and it keeps food on the table," she sufficed. "Besides, he knows the baby is due soon. I suspect he shouldn't be gone for long."

"Still," the woman muttered. "I say if he really loved you, he wouldn't dare in leaving your side!"

A passerby snarled, "What'dya know of love, wench?" With a strong arm, he shoved Agathe. He gleamed in satisfaction when  her back hit the brick wall. Then he continued on without looking back.

Belle went to her after the man passed - given her current condition, she wasn't about to put herself between Agathe and an angry villager. She helped the woman regain her balance.  "Oh, Agathe, I wish these people would treat you better," she sighed. She felt terrible about what she just witnessed. "You deserve so much better."

Agathe shook her head, a smile on her aged face. "Don't worry about me, love." She took Belle's hand and patted it. "You've got many other things to worry about than me."

Belle pursed her lips unconvincingly.

"Don't look so sad.  I'm quite alright. In fact, I know far more about love than any other being in this town. Maybe, save for you."

He had no time to exhale gratefully as he finally spotted their familiar front door. He jumped the fence, nearly clipping the top with the toe of his boot. "Belle!" he shouted urgently.

Then he tripped mounting the steps. His knee struck against the top step and his palms scraped on the rough stone. He stumbled to his feet again and swung the door open.

His eyes found her. "Belle!"

Belle smiled. Agathe succeeded in assuring her - that or she knew she should get to the market soon so she could spend the rest of the day at home in her favorite armchair. "If I have extra money, I'll-"

The older woman shook her head. "Don't worry about it, love."

"Then I'll see you later, Agathe," she replied. "Be careful."

"You as well."

Belle gave a tired smile in return. She continued to the market, particularly the fruit stands. She stopped and studied the rows of fruits she wasn't able to grow in her garden. 

"Can I help you, Madame?" the grocer asked.

She glanced up, giving him a quick smile. "No, I'm just looking." And she did look at the lemons and apples and pears. She picked up an apple when a faint twinge pulled at her side, b ut she ignored it.

She spent less than an hour standing. It escaped her notice for a while that the sun had beaten down on her, making her increasingly warm. She let out a sickly sigh and pressed her hand to her temple-

"Madame," a woman asked. She put her hand on Belle's shoulder. "Are you alright?"

"Fine. I'm fine," Belle replied. "Just tired." She licked her lips and took a breath. "I better get home," she said as she knew the woman was still watching her. She excused herself, making her way through the gossiping villagers to the safe walls of their home.

She closed the door behind her and groaned.

He stepped forward without waiting for a reply. He took her hands in his for a moment. He watched her face, every line of confusion and every question that filled her brown eyes. He saw no sign of pain and discomfort, but that didn't mean she was okay. He let go and carefully ran his hands over her body, checking for anything amiss.

A question sat on the tip of her tongue but she kept it in.

His disheveled appearance had startled her. He had come barreling through the door, still covered in vague smears of blood up to his elbows from whatever dead animal he had skinned. His hair was loose from his tie, so much so that a fair amount of strands were already gathered at the side of his face. His brown jacket was not on his shoulders as it was when he left days ago, nor did he have on his pistol and crossbow.

She knew he never traveled without his weapons. She just hoped whatever happened out there hadn't been too life-threatening.

Grey eyes met hers, and they seemed far less manic than a few moments ago. His hands stopped at their unborn child who was kicking relentlessly much to Belle's discomfort. He looked at her face. He saw the faint grimace tug at the corner of her mouth.

"You're not- you're not having the baby, are you?" he asked carefully.

She frowned. "No..." Out of all the reasons to hurry home unannounced, how could he have possibly focused on that? Sure, their child could arrive any day but he was sure he'd be home in time for the birth. And she trusted him. Why now...?

Then it clicked.

Her stomach twisted with nerves as she started to feel bad for him. "Gaston, what did you hear?" She pressed her palms to his chest as he started to turn away.

He let out a short breath. "I was still-" He lifted his arms to describe that activity. "- with Lefou when a villager on his way out told me you were having the baby." He brought her knuckles to his lips. "I rushed home then as quick as I could. I was not about to let you birth my son alone."

She narrowed her eyes briefly. He always managed that somehow. Right when she was falling for his charm and thoughtfulness, he diverted from the path- or steered back onto the path that only he could create.

"I took Nathie and Gilby to Papa's then I went to the market. I started to feel a bit sick. I returned home shortly after. I suppose word must've spread and turned into something else entirely by the time it reached you." She bit her lip.

His mouth was in a firm line. "You shouldn't have been out to begin with," he grunted. His grey eyes turned dark and shadowed. He was concealing his worry.

He strode to the door and unraveled his hat. He retied his hair and put his hat back on. He took one step out the door.

"Where are you going?"

He swiveled on his heel and before Belle knew it, she was steered to the armchair. "To see if Sage is in," he answered. He pulled the ottoman closer and propped her feet up.

His fingers grazing her ankles had a satisfied groan leave her throat without her permission. He looked at her quickly.

She waved him off. "I'm fine." Her voice was borderline content. Then she yawned - this also did not have her permission to leave. "Sending for Sage is not necessary." Sage was the town's midwife who Belle really didn't want to bother, especially with something as unimportant as a little heat sickness... All she could go for was a heavenly foot-rub and a nice nap.

"I'll rub your feet when I return with Sage," his voice cut into her thoughts.

Her face warmed. She didn't realize she had spoken out loud. She tried to change the subject. "What about Lefou? And that man at the tavern?"

He let out a short grunt as he thought. He "It'll take no longer than fifteen minutes. I was nearly done." He bent and kissed her tenderly. "I'll be right back." He stood straight and headed for the open door.

"Oh, and Gaston?"

He turned his head.

"It could be a girl," she reminded him. She didn't want him to forget what she had talked about the night she accepted his proposal.

"Belle," he said with much confidence, "Gaston genes only make sons."


livre, French currency from 781 to 1794

Chapter Text

 

Elle giggled delightfully as her mother gently bounced her. Her light grey eyes were happy and her little hands were clapping with enthusiasm. She was as bubbly as any eight-month-old should be. Belle smiled and kissed the side of her head. She turned to the skipping young girl coming up the hill to the house.

Julia, her and Gaston's oldest daughter, recently turned eighteen and had beautiful brunette curls and big brown eyes. She held her absolute favorite book, Le Morte d'Arthur, that her papa bought for her while he was in Paris a few years ago - she hardly went anywhere without it. She wore a lovely burgundy dress that she made herself after being infatuated with her mother's dress since as far back as she could remember. Like Belle, she only wore it on special occasions, and her first trip into town on her own had been a very special occasion.

Her laugh was light-hearted and she twirled in her haze of happiness.

Belle smiled knowingly. She glanced back in the house - Gaston was getting ready for a day's work in town, trading items as he did every six months that were of no use to them for luxuries they seldom bought. He never spoke of what he was to get, but she knew he'd always bring home three - now four - silk ribbons for each of their girls, spools of thread and patches of material for her, and fine blades for weapons for the boys. Gilbert (20) had become quite the blacksmith and was interested in reworking anything he could find. He had his eye on the blacksmith's daughter in town which Belle assumed fueled his passion.

There were four boys in their household now. Nathaniel (22) had married Captain Aloïs' youngest daughter Louisa last summer. Belle remembered seeing the joy of her son and his new wife on their day, but she also remembered the ache in her back and her hips as she was far too old to carry another child. Then she smiled softly to herself - Gaston hardly left her side that day. She still remembered the way his rough hands so gently massaged her sides and her lower back and-

She snorted. No wonder Elle ended up being an accident.

"Hello, Mama," Julia greeted with a wide smile and an airiness to her. She bounded up the cobblestone path to the porch. She stopped short before going inside. She squished baby Elle's pudgy arms, "Oh, you're so cute! Isn't she just adorable, Mama?"

"Yes, she is, darling," Belle beamed. She wasn't going to pry for information on the cause of her daughter's behavior. That wasn't her job.

It was Gaston's. And she had a feeling he would not at all like what he found.

Julia's carefree demeanor sunk slightly as she noticed her papa walking toward the door. She quickly recovered and smiled again. "Hi, Papa."

Gaston's eyes softened and he stepped onto the porch. He extended his arm to pull her into a greeting hug, "How was your first trip into town by yourself?"

A laugh sounded at the back of her throat. She brushed past him and hurried through the doorway. "Would love to talk but I have things to do!"

Belle bit her lip as she watched Julia scurry away. She watched confusion settle on her husband's face. Her palm touched his forearm and he returned to the present. "She'll tell you when she's ready."

He looked like he wanted to argue, to insist she tell him now. But as he looked at Belle, he knew she was right. After years and years of adapting to four - now five - females in the house, his insistent ways were pretty much over.

He let out a slightly disgruntled grunt and tugged his wife close. Then he grinned when Elle reached for him.

Belle watched their last little baby rest her arms on his shoulders as he situated her in his hold. Gaston still looked the same to her - burly, intimidating, handsome, everything she eventually realized was her perfect fairytale... based on looks. Happily ever after took work.

It took getting along with someone who was as equally stubborn and headstrong. It took dealing with his brash and at times, thoughtless behavior. It took equally putting up with each others' moods. It took enduring arguments that bled into fights. It took spewing words of loathing then melting into heartfelt apologies. It took getting through night terrors of war that still plagued him. It took him letting his guard down enough to be consoled and comforted. It took trust. It took building a family and a life together. It took protecting one another. It took love.

"What are you thinking about?" his amused voice cut in.

A smile curved her lips. She rested her head on the shoulder Elle wasn't occupying. "How you're going to miss this when she's older. We're not having any more accidents."

He chuckled then openly admitted what she said was true. "I am going to miss this." Then his free arm snaked around her waist. She lifted her head curiously then let out a small giggle as his breath tickled her neck. His voice went husky and honest. "But I just can't seem to keep my hands off you, Madame Gaston," he growled into her ear. "Twenty-three years of marriage and you're still the same beauty I fell in love with. Even sexier after you've carried my children-"

He ran his tongue against the base of her earlobe and a dark blush spread across her cheeks. She shied away from his antics and looked at him through her eyelashes. His signature overconfident grin stood proudly on his lips. She wrapped an arm around his neck, her other arm settling on his torso.

His smile didn't falter as he held her close. Then she stood on her toes and pressed a kiss to his scruffy cheek. Both let out a laugh when Elle saw her competition - she put her little arms around Gaston's neck and pulled him closer to her and away from her mama.

"Elle!" Belle teased.

"That's my little love," he cooed. He was content to stand a little longer on the porch before packing up the wagon and heading to town...

Then a faint clip-clop of a horse coming up the lane had his back straightening. He and Belle looked toward the interruption.

Down the dirt road that passed their home was a grey horse trotting steadily. A young man of around the age of twenty atop.

Belle hummed simply. So it seemed Gaston would lose his temper sooner rather than later. She plucked Elle from his arms who did not willingly agree to go. She let out an indignant cry. Belle shushed her gently as she went inside. Then as an afterthought, she called over her shoulder, "Don't scare the poor lad, alright, sweetheart. And be careful of Julia. She's not exactly hard-headed like her papa."

He frowned. "What?"

He straightened his jacket and went to investigate this newcomer.

Julia soon appeared in the doorway, no doubt having been ushered out by Belle. She raced to him. "Papa!" she said in surprise.

He sent her a glare to which she laughed nervously. "Julia," he began sternly.

The young man stopped his horse a few feet away. He dismounted and walked with moderate confidence and slight nervousness and great fear to the former army captain. He removed his hat and extended his hand to the man. "Monsieur Gaston, my name is Pierre. Pierre Perdant."

Gaston scrutinized the boy and did not shake his hand. He noticed Julia was nervously wringing her hands, her face gave away her desperateness to please him. "And what are you doing here so far away from town?" he questioned instead.

"Well, sir- Monsieur Gaston. I- I am a farmer. I make good money for the cattle and pigs I raise. I-" He trailed his words as he grew distracted. Another- two others were coming up the path to join them.

Julia turned and Gaston followed her eyes. The heavy frown on his brow grew into one of concern as Belle neared. He stepped forward. "Is everything alright?" his voice no longer harsh as it had been with the boy.

She smiled a little too widely for his liking. Then she feigned surprise, "I just remembered I told Papa I'd ride into the next town and pick up some of those sweets he likes. Here-" She plopped Elle back into his arms. "She's been fed and changed. She should be good for a few hours- Was making quite a fuss with her siblings but I know how much she loves her papa!" She patted Elle's cheek then pinched his.

His jaw clenched tightly and his eyes narrowed dangerously at her but she smiled. She had done this on purpose. She knew he was less likely to lose his temper and say things he would regret with a baby in his arms. "Belle," he growled.

She greeted the young man instead. "Pierre, wasn't it? I apologize. Julia has told me about you-"

Julia's head whipped to her. Her eyes wide and her head shaking back and forth vigorously.

"You lot have fun." She looked back to Gaston, who was not amused by any of this, and straightened her skirts. "Darling, do you mind if I take Alerion? Daisy's got a bit old and it's a long ride. I don't want to tire her out."

Alerion was the even-tempered dark brown Norman Cob Gaston bargained to buy for two weeks with the blacksmith in the next town. Magnifique had endured both old age and an infection from a broken leg before he died, nearly ten years ago at the age of twenty-four. Alerion was purchased roughly two years after.

Gaston wanted to growl a 'no' because how was he going to get into town after this brat left? The growl curled his lips but Elle placed both hands on his cheeks and turned his face to hers. The urge to sound mean and harsh and threatening dissipated. "Fine," he managed tightly before kissing Elle's forehead.

Belle smiled. "Thank you, dear."

He grumbled and turned back to the young man. He willed his hard glare to return even though Elle's pudgy hands were patting his face and playing with his hair tie. She, out of all their children, seemed to have the least care of the world around her.

At the sight of a stranger:

Nathaniel would have cried. Gilbert would have been silent but watching the other intently. Julia would have been frightened. Thomas would have reached for Belle instead and would have been near inconsolable. Agatha would have let go of a wail then buried her face in his neck. Jonathan would have cried louder than Nathaniel. Cedric would have been quiet as Gilbert but he would have resorted to sucking on his thumb. And Amelia would have attempted to make friends with whoever her parents were talking to. Elle was the most simple out of all.

And she adored her papa.

Which made Gaston's job of being the intimidating father difficult.

He raised his chin and tried not to look at Julia's slightly amused face. "You were saying?"

Pierre coughed. "Well uh, Monsieur Gaston- My father is a farmer and my mother is a seamstress. I have three sisters-"

"Get on with it!" he barked. He was getting impatient.

"Monsieur Gaston," he yet again repeated nervously. "I came here to ask for your permission for me to court your daughter." He looked partially relieved to have said it.

"And if I say no?"

"Papa!" Julia gasped. "Oh, Papa, please! Give him a chance!"

His hard glare turned to her and she took off, emotions and all, back toward the house.

Gaston let out a sigh and reluctantly followed her. He opened the front door, relieved to see that her siblings were nowhere in sight- though that probably was not a good thing. The lot were most likely up to some mischief and Gilbert, having set into his young adult phase, was most likely not watching them. He sighed again.

He heard her shoes against the wooden floor down the hall.

"Jules-"

"Don't call me that!" she spat angrily.

She truly was the spitting image of Belle. Books, reading, stubbornness, a force of her own, everything. He grunted and followed her as she attempted to lock herself in her room. He caught the door with the toe of his boot just as she closed it. "Julia," his voice was laced with disappointment. "How long have you known this boy?"

She didn't answer.

He opened the door further. She was sitting on her bed trying not to cry. He set Elle on a safe patch of floor before sitting beside his oldest daughter. His tone was gentler and kinder. "Julia, I'm not mad at you."

"Are you mad at him?"

He chuckled lightly. "As your father, I don't particularly like any sort of boy who comes around to take my little girl."

She smiled and a tear escaped her eye. She looked at Elle who had her eye on a broken piece of Agatha's favorite music box that had recently endured a tumble off the shelf. She laughed a bit. "I'm not your only little girl," she teased.

He swiped the small piece right from under Elle's reaching hand. She followed his hand and looked up at him with big and sad eyes. She had just been betrayed by the very man she idolized. Her bottom lip began to tremble.

Julia stifled a laugh as her papa struggled to find another object to stop Elle from crying. She watched him realize that there was nothing in her, Agatha, and Amelia's spotless room. She grabbed the doll she had been given when she was Elle's age and handed it to him. "Here," she grinned.

He looked grateful. He placed the doll in front of Elle just as true unhappy tears welled up in her eyes. He held his breath.

The little girl stopped building up her sob-story and took the doll with a new smile.

He exhaled heavily. "Thank you," he said to Julia.

Silence settled between the two for several long moments. Then Julia spoke, "I've known Pierre for a while. We pass by his parents' farm every time we go into town. I always see him but I thought he didn't notice me until last time I was there. With you and Thomas. He said I was shy and timid but that I was beautiful. He said he wanted someone like me, someone to fill the romantic element of his life. He told me he felt something like love for me and he suggested we court. I agreed but mentioned for him to ask you first."

Gaston expected more.

He expected her to tell him a similar tale to his lifelong pining then after the war, forwardness towards Belle. He expected more than a little quick love story. He also didn't like the way she worded her sentences. It sounded as though this Pierre fellow had a controlling streak in him. And he was not about to let his child enter any relationship of that sort. He looked at her, "Julia-"

Her brown eyes were hopeful.

Living twenty-three years with Belle, he realized he had softened. He was no longer taking charge, steering his children in the right direction. They were their own persons now. And he couldn't destroy her spirit. He sighed. "Is he kind?"

She thought a bit and Gaston didn't like it that she had to pause about it. "Sometimes. But he's always kind to me."

"Does he love you?"

Her smile was as bright as ever as she answered, "Yes."

"Do you-" He cleared his throat. "Could you.. love him as well?"

She nodded ever so enthusiastically. "Yes, Papa."

He studied her. He didn't like Pierre. But his Julia was so happy. He knew if he told her no and sent the lad on his way never to return, she'd hate him for the rest of her life. But if he let her marry this boy and he turned out to be cruel and heartless, he'd never forgive himself.

"Papa?"

He smiled softly though it didn't reach his eyes. "Alright." His throat threatened to close as he spoke. This wouldn't set well with him for a long while.

She squealed and squeezed him tightly. She kissed his cheek then scurried from the room, nearly tripping over her sprawled-out brother in the hall.

Gaston watched her go before slowly following. He scooped Elle up, playfully rolling his eyes as she eagerly let go of the doll in place for his neck. He stepped out of the room-

Cedric (10) was lying in the middle of the hall on his stomach. Amelia (7 and 3 months) and Jonathan (11) stood over him with wooden spoons, occasionally using him as a drum. He glanced into the room where Gilbert was lying on his bed watching the ceiling. Thomas (17) had a book out and was reading aloud to the group while Agatha (14) was providing some sort of commentary. His shook his head at whatever this was, but at least he knew Gilbert was with them.

Julia and Pierre separated their embrace when he joined them outside. He shifted Elle in his arms as he headed straight for Pierre.

The young lad gulped.

"May I have a word with you?" Gaston asked as civil as he could manage.

"Yes, sir."

He led the boy a few paces away from Julia. He gave Pierre a hard but cold glare. His voice turned so threateningly low that Elle shied away from him for she had never heard her father speak that way. "Do not forget Julia is my daughter," he began. He wanted to tell the boy he did not believe he truly felt love for Julia. It teetered on the tip of his tongue. "You hurt her- lay a hand on her, break her heart, I will drag you from the town by the rope you use for your cattle to the forest. I will watch with pure satisfaction as I tie you up and leave you for the wolves!"

Pierre jumped at the sudden angered shout that left the captain. He nodded severely. "Yes, sir. I hear you, sir. It won't happen, sir."

But Gaston didn't believe him.

Julia appeared at Pierre's side. She looked at Gaston, noting his dark look. "Papa, may I walk Pierre halfway back to town?"

He tore his hard glare from the boy and willed it to turn gentle as he looked at her. His mouth was stiff. "Of course." And he watched with uneasiness settling into his stomach as his Julia happily skip off with Pierre and his horse. His jaw tightened.

"Uh-pa?" Elle asked quietly. She hesitantly reached towards his face, almost afraid he would suddenly bite her.

His demeanor softened and he kissed her palms. "I'm okay, my darling girl."

Her light grey eyes returned to life at his normal voice. "Uh-pa," she giggled. She put her hands on his mouth and ear before pulling his face towards her.

He smiled tenderly as she gave his cheek a sloppy kiss.

Chapter Text

 

Pierre tucked a strand Julia's curly brown hair behind her ear. Julia held his latest courting gift - a tall sprig of lavender. It was simple but such a gift from her intended, Julia cherished it. His fingers lingered on the curve of her delicate chin. His eyes studied her as if he were taking in every inch of her beautiful face, wanting to remember every fleck of sunlight in her brown eyes, every rose-colored tinge to her cheeks, every spark of joy that brightened her smile.

"Julia, would you like me to walk you home?" Then he thought a bit more. "At least halfway home?"

She shook her head. Today had been lovely in town with him. Walking through town, arm-in-arm, seeing other lads that went to school with him.

He had been surprised to learn she was educated. Girls in Villeneuve did not go to school - they were kept at home and taught how to run the household. She nodded greatly and excitedly explained how her mother taught all her brothers and sisters to read and write. That her father taught them how to count and solve problems. Then her and her siblings were taught how to run the household, work in the fields, tend to the horses, take care (and prepare) livestock, and handle weapons.

Pierre had slgihtly grunted to that. She knew more about surviving on her own than he did. But he gave her a kind smile as she continued her tales.

They came upon the square and she stood up on the fountain. On trips to the market, her papa and mama never stayed for too long. Simply to go about their business then leave. She always wanted to stay a bit longer. But she never had the courage to ask. Nathie had asked once when he was ten and Papa had been very stern with him. She had been six at the time and Mama had made her leave her book at home, without argument.

Even still, she didn't see anything absurd with this little town.

Pierre stuffed his hands in his pockets. "I'm going to stop in at the blacksmith's."

"Okay," she said. "I'll stay here."

He gave a nod and went off. She eventually sat on the wall and watched the villagers go about their lives. She didn't remember the town well - she had been four-years-old when they had moved into Papa's hunting lodge in the country.

She thought of Papa recounting how squished the house was getting with he and Mama, Nathie and Gilby, her and Tommy, and newborn baby Agatha in one tiny two bedroom house. He said they had been as overdue on the move as Agatha had on arriving into the world. To that, she remembered, Mama smacked his arm.

She smiled and thought about taking a stroll, seeing if she could find where they used to live. All she remembered was that it was a few houses away from Granpapa.

With her sprig of lavender in hand, she skipped down the cobblestone lane toward Granpapa's home. His garden had gone to waste - weeds had overgrown and the tree was unkept, littering the ground with years and years of dead leaves. She paused in front of the decaying fence then she remembered what she overheard Mama tell Papa one night. That Granpapa was getting sick. That though his spirits were high, he was withering away. She had cried and Papa had held her. And Julia had snuck away.

She passed his home and continued down the street where it curved with the hill. She smiled as she spotted a house with a leaning fence. She remembered Mama recounting stories of Papa's struggle to fix the fence and how it refused to stand up straight. Then she mentioned it didn't help every time he jumped over it when he was in a right hurry to get home. He always blushed at that.

"Oi! Get movin', blasted whippersnapper!" the cranky owner shouted from his doorstep.

Julia jumped. "Sorry, sir." And she scurried away toward the fountain again.

But she stopped short at the end of the lane. Her feet were glued to the spot and she heard a shocked gasp leave her lungs.

Pierre stood at the fountain while another girl stood beside him. His lips were hungrily attacking hers. Her hands roamed his upper half and his ever so gracefully slid down toward her waist, then her hips, to the curve of her bottom. But they parted at the sound of her gasp.

He looked like a deer that had just been startled.

Julia saw who it was he had been kissing: Amethyst Rose.

He always spoke of the other girl being awkward. He mocked her lack of being able to fit in. He said she was undeniably and horrifically different than the other girls in town. But she could see now that Amethyst matured into a very beautiful young woman.

"Julia-"

A spark of anger brought her from her disbelief.

She marched right up to him. She stomped on his toes. Then on the floor beside Amethyt's feet stood a bucket of water - no doubt Pierre was playing the part of the eligible and unattached gentleman helping the lady carry home her water.

Julia thanked the heavens that Papa had made them lug full buckets of feed for the cows and pigs throughout their childhood. She grabbed the filled-to-the brim water bucket and flung it at him. Its solid bottom struck his chest and he made an 'oof' noise. Then she gave him a right good shove. He lost his balance and landed hard against the street.

His eyes were wide and terrified. He made no attempt to offer an explanation.

She wouldn't wait around for some made-up story. She was off. She pulled herself up on Alerion and raced for home. All eighteen miles, tears stung her eyes.

Her legs were like jelly by the time she made it to the front door. She yanked open the handle and stumbled inside. She vaguely noticed her mama in the kitchen and her siblings were all a blur as she raced through. She glanced through every room until she found who she was looking for, who she needed the most.

Gaston had just set down his shaving knife on the washroom's shelf when she appeared in the doorway. He barely had enough time to take in her flushed face, her tear-streaked cheeks, and her quivering bottom lip before she clung to him.

"Jules, what's the matter?" he asked worriedly as she sobbed into his chest.

She hiccuped. "He lied-"

He berated himself for allowing her to go through such pain. Then his blood began to boil as he thought of some boy having the nerve to hurt his daughter. "Pierre?"

She nodded.

"I'm going to tan his hide," Gaston snarled. He pried her hands away and grabbed his boots. He vaguely heard her sob and her feet patter against the wooden floor as she ran to her mother. All he could hear was the blood rushing in his ears as anger took over him.

Belle heard and caught Julia just as she stumbled into the living room. "What's the matter, my sweet?" she asked softly as her oldest daughter cried into her.

Julia sobbed, holding onto her for dear life. "Oh, Mama- It was dreadful!"

She looked over Julia's shoulder to Gaston for answers, but she noticed his eyes were dark with rage. She forced Julia to look at her. She gripped her shoulders firmly. "What happened?" she asked in a serious tone for Gaston looked ready to murder someone.

"Pierre kissed Amethyst Rose-" she cried. "I- I told Papa-"

Belle looked to the man at the sound of his boots nearing the front door. She watched him then tried to follow. "Gaston, what're you going to do- Gaston, don't take your rifle- Breathe, we'll- we'll talk it over- Gaston! Gaston!" she shouted after him.

But the hunter didn't listen. He slung his rifle over his shoulder and mounted Alerion before urging the horse towards town.

Julia hiccuped and hugged her mother again. Then in a soft voice, she asked, "Is he going to kill Pierre?"

A sigh escaped Belle. She wasn't sure what her husband would do, but it wasn't what Julia needed to worry about. "No, he's.. at best, he's going to scare the boy." She hoped that was all he would do.


Gaston rode up the boy's home. "Pierre!" he shouted greatly. "Pierre!"

The young lad opened the door timidly. His face was very pale for Julia's father was the last person he expected to see. He knew he should have lied to the girl after she caught him kissing Amethyst. But he tried to remain collected, even in the presence of the former army captain. "Monsieur Gaston- I can explain-"

Gaston loaded and set up his rifle, aiming for the noise to frighten the boy. "You'll do a lot more than explain." His voice was tense and he gritted his teeth. "Get your coat. You're comin' with me."

"... yes sir," he managed. His eyes never left the intimidating man with the menacing gun standing outside the fence. He blindly pulled his coat off the rack inside the door before closing it. He carefully made his way to Julia's father. He tried not to gulp in fear as he stood just a tad shorter than the taller man. "Sir?"

He nodded his head, signalling the boy to follow. He took Alerion's reins and led the horse down the path.

Pierre did as he was told with no questions asked for some time before his stomach began to twist. Worry was starting to get the better of him.

Julia's father had not spoken about where he was leading him. Pierre tried to reassure himself - the man hadn't taken a rope, therefore he wasn't going to tie him to a tree and leave him for the wolves. But he did have a rifle, and he had heard that a gunshot wound to vital organs was a most miserable and painful way to die.

He swallowed as fear struck. "Monsieur Gaston-"

He gripped Pierre's collar and picked up his pace, practically dragging the young man. The villagers out in the late evening whispered as he pulled Pierre through the town toward the winding path that led away, past the fields, toward the thickening trees.

Pierre thought of calling for help, but surely someone - anyone - could see that he was being taken against his will.

But then, there weren't many people who would dare stand against Gaston the Hunter, the war hero, the Captain. He shuddered as he realized that killing another man would probably not put a dent in his conscience- he had done it plenty of times before during the war.

He watched as the fields of grass grew thicker until forest underbrush crunched under his boots. Then the trees seemed to narrow as he was pulled further and further into the forest. The trees soon hid them from any outsider's view. He could barely make out the meandering horse that Gaston left tied to a branch.

Gaston released the boy from his grip and watched him stumble to try and make an escape.

He pulled the trigger.

Pierre jerked as the bullet took a chunk of wood out of the tree just beside and just above his head. Then he shouted hurriedly, "Monsieur Gaston! I didn't mean to hurt Julia- It's just-" His shout dwindled to a cowardly plea.

Gaston shoved the bullet harshly into the chamber before setting it up again. "It's just what?" he growled dangerously.

He gulped. Then he let out a nervous laugh as a cold sweat broke out on his face. "You know how it is…" he tried in humor. "So many beautiful girls-"

He fired again.

It ricocheted off a stone and the noise pierced Pierre's ears. The young man jumped.

"So many beautiful girls?" Gaston didn't take lightly. "More beautiful than my Julia?"

Pierre coughed. His eyes were wide and fearful though he tried to build up his courage. "Well, sir- I'm sure when you were choosing a wife, there were many, many beautiful girls-" He wrung his hands. He just knew that an attractive man like Julia's father had many women to choose from before he married. He certainly knew the man would understand his side of the story. "It's hard to choose just one-"

Gaston reloaded and fired again. The bullet cut through branches and landed solidly in the tree beside Pierre's arm. "Say it again! I dare you." His eyes were dark and angry and challenging.

The words the boy had spoken were an insult. An insult to not only his daughter but his wife who he loved beyond measure.

He slid another bullet in place and spoke in a low growl, "My wife was the most beautiful girl in the village." He stepped closer to Pierre who took a great step back. "She was appealing because she hadn't made a fool of herself to gain my favor. But she wasn't simple." He cocked the rifle. "She had dignity and I admired her for it. She completed the emptiness in my heart. There was no other woman like her nor could there ever be."

His eyes narrowed, daring the other to continue his lies.

He swallowed and tried to reason again. "Well, sir, certainly you've seen Amethyst and her-"

Gaston unsheathed his hunting knife and stuck it in the tree beside Pierre. His fingers tingling with a near uncontrollable fire. "You mean to tell me you fooled my Julia in believing you loved her- wanted to marry her when all you wanted was to woo some harpy-"

Pierre's courage surfaced at the wrong moment. "Don't you speak about her like that! You don't know her!"

Gaston grabbed a fistful of the boy's hair. He forced his head back, making the young man look at him. "How dare you lie to her! My darling daughter who I would certainly die for- How dare you get her hopes up- you pathetic and cowardly swine!" He released him from his painful grip and gave him a hard shove and pulled the trigger.

Pierre fell to the ground and scrabbled away as fast as he could.

Gaston took a step towards him and Pierre let out a shout. He hoped with all his might that someone would hear him and that they'd stop this mad man from killing him.

There was a movement in the trees and Gaston lowered his rifle. He knew who it was. He reluctantly stepped back, still huffing with sheer anger.

"Papa!" Julia cried. "Papa, don't hurt him!"

She appeared through the next layer of trees, still nearing them. She picked her way through the brush. "Papa! Don't-

She came into the clearing and saw Pierre lying on the ground looking white as a sheet and utterly terrified. But she didn't feel as sorry as she had imagined she would. She stumbled a bit and Gaston caught her arm, steadying her and bringing her closer. Her eyes couldn't leave Pierre's.

He realized who stood there before him and most gratefully in between him and the Captain. "Julia!" he cried in relief. "Am I glad to see you!"

She tried to feel pity as she stared down at him, but no such feelings surfaced. She made a noise in the back of her throat.

He suddenly saw his advantage. In the months he had been with Julia, she was easy to please, and in this case, he hoped she'd be easily coerced into siding with him rather than her menacing father.

He pointed at Gaston with an accusing finger. "He's- he's trying to kill me! Julia, my darling, tell him we talked about it. Right after it happened. Remember? It was all a misunderstanding."

Gaston boomed a contemptuous laugh. "I was never going to kill you, boy!"

That gave great relief to Pierre for a brief moment.

Julia's fears were also settled but then she noticed that her father was reloading his rifle a little too calmly. Her stomach twisted with in anxiety.

"But if you are commanding Julia and telling her what to say-" He chuckled darkly then gave Pierre a gleaming and slightly manic grin. "- I might reconsider such a choice."

He raised his gun, aiming it for the helpless boy on the forest floor.

"Papa, please-" she stopped. She put her hands on his arm, trying to get him to lower the rifle. "Papa!"

The sharpness to her voice cut through his anger and he relented with a snarl under his breath.

She bit her lip and looked at him. "Papa," she said softly. She mustered her courage. "I- I want to speak with Pierre alone."

He looked at her sharply.

"Please."

Gaston's lip curled with much disapproval. He let loose a growl as he stalked off. But he chose a spot where they could not see him but he could hear everything.

Julia wrung her hands and Pierre stood carefully. He took a few steps back from her, terribly afraid that as Captain Gaston's daughter, she'd kill him with a mere swing of a-

He visibly shuddered as she removed the hunting knife that was lodged in the tree trunk. His eyes were glued to her hand.

She gave a small but stiff smile and pocketed it in her leather pouch. She heaved a breath and looked at him. She was ready to hear what sort of explanation he had to offer.

Pierre swallowed. He looked at her. "Julia, I wasn't lying when I said I fancied you..."

She swore she would not cry. She would not give him the satisfaction of seeing her show emotion. But he had broken her heart and made her afraid of love.

Her voice quivered, "Then why did you want to court me if there was another? Why did you make me believe you loved me?" Tears welled up in her eyes.

He shrugged simply. "I thought I did. You were beautiful and kind.. but then-" He took a turn and his voice filled with awe. "- Amethyst Rose blossomed into a right and pure beauty. I had to take my chance with her before any other boy in town did."

Julia let go of a sickened breath. But she could tell he wasn't hearing himself. And it was almost as if he had forgotten she was there.

A wide grin adorned his face and Julia knew that no one could ever think of her and wear that same smile. "She is so much more beautiful than any girl I've ever met. Nobody can compare to her! She fills my heart and I know she will make me the luckiest man in Villeneuve." His eyes focused blankly on her and a tear rolled down her cheek. "Julia, I know someone will like you and maybe even love you, but even if they don't, your parents don't seem like the type of people to throw you out of the house and make you beg on the streets because you're not the marrying type-"

A broken and pained and cowardly scream of pain left his lungs loudly.

More tears had begun to fall by the time she heard the gunshot. She watched Pierre fall to the ground, holding his bloodied shoulder. He wailed and cowered before her father.

But she couldn't hear Papa's angry shouts and curses and threats.

She hadn't realized she was stepping away until she collided with a tree. She cried quietly and watched emptily as her papa grabbed Pierre by the collar and dragged him through the brush and between the trees before flinging him onto the dirt road where the young man picked himself up and ran away.

"Julia?"

She let out a sob. "Oh, Papa!" she cried.

He pulled her close and let her sob hard into him. He kissed the top of her head and let out a sigh himself. The boy had been awful towards her. He knew if she ever chose another suitor, he'd have a thorough interrogation with the young man. She will never go through this hell again.

Her legs gave way and he lifted her still quite effortlessly into his arms.

She protested half-heartedly as he started for home, "I'm too big to be carried-" But she didn't tell him to put her down.

He gave a sad smile and pressed a kiss to her forehead. "I do not care. You'll always be my little girl."

Julia eventually fell asleep - the events of the day finally taking a toll. Gaston had untied Alerion and set her on his back soon after her breathing evened out. He climbed up behind her and held her as they continued home. He woke her when their house came into view.

She rubbed her eyes and yawned. She rested her head on his collarbone. "I'm never going to find someone," she said quietly.

Gaston felt his heart break. He feared she had taken those boy's cruel words to heart. "You will, my Jules. You're worth so much more than what he said."

She gave a small sniff. She spotted her mother as they neared the house, and soon she was there, helping her dismount Alerion.

Belle looked to her husband as he joined them. "What happened?"

"Bullet grazed him," he grunted nonchalantly. "Honest accident if anyone asks. Boy looks like a deer."

Julia found herself sitting across from her papa at the table. She glanced around at her innocent and carefree siblings - it would be years before they were in her shoes and even then, they'll have better luck.

She sniffed again and wiped at her eyes with the back of her sleeve. Her lip quivered as she looked to her papa. "But just say I don't-" Her brown eyes were wide and pleading and scared.

Gaston offered her a gentle smile. He took her hand in his. "Julia, my sweet Julia. He had no right telling you such lies. You're smart and kind and beautiful. You're determined and feisty and headstrong." He chuckled a bit, "Just like your mother. And there's someone out there who will love every bit of you. I guarantee that when he finds you, he will never want to be parted from you and he will love you with all his heart."

Belle leaned against his shoulders and wrapped her arms around him. "Just like your papa loves me."

A happy tear slid from Julia's eye and she smiled.

Chapter Text

 

Belle was out in their little garden, getting a bit of fresh air after being ill the past few days. She smiled at her son who was quite content playing under the shade of the tree with dirt and leaves.

"Belle!"

She sat back on her ankles and breathed out a smile at the sight and sound of him. He had been gone all morning on some business, muttering it on his way out as he was awfully intent on finding Lefou. The sight of him and his grin made her heart flutter.

She looked to the wagon parked down the road and noticed the few boxes. "Going somewhere else?"

He made a noise between a hum and a grunt. "Lefou and I.. Doesn't matter. Will be home shortly after sundown."

She harrumphed - she didn't believe him.

"I will," he argued. He moved from the fence to the opening of the garden.

"Gaston-" She half-heartedly tried to stop him from trampling through the garden - right on the cabbages. With a groan she set down her shears. "Gaston, every time. That row has not had the chance to grow anything since you keep stepping on them!"

He chuckled and pulled her up. His hands roamed to her backside where in his defense, a considerable amount of dirt sat. She smiled but didn't protest when he dusted her off. "There," he said satisfied with his handiwork. He noticed Nathaniel.

The little boy giggled and raised his arms at the sight of him.

"No one makes messes in the dirt like Nathie, huh," he grinned. He kissed the boy's cheek and set him back on his dirt pile. He turned to Belle again.

"I'll be back after sundown but before dark. Don't stay out too late."

She looked mildly offended. "And what does that mean?"

He glanced over his shoulder and shrugged. "It gets dark rather fast and you know how the drunks of the town wander-"

"And you want your little wife to be safe?" she mused. He was oddly considerate today. What was he up to?

He grinned. "And my son." He returned to her. "And you're not my little wife, Belle."

"Just checking."

He lifted her hand and kissed her knuckle.

"You're acting awfully strange, Gaston," she couldn't stop herself. "What have you done?"

"Nothing!" he said a little too quickly. Then he repeated it with gusto. "Nothing, my dear!"

She narrowed her eyes at him. "Well, be safe."

He grinned and kissed her suddenly. "Always am, love."

"Gaston!" There was a scuffle from the wagon and Lefou appeared - he didn't see Belle. "I don't mean to be a bother, but you do know we have to go? If you're like me and don't think we're going to have time to do everything you want and be back by sundown, you might as well hand Belle the box-"

"Lefou!" he shouted abruptly.

He whipped his head up and spotted Belle who was looking more and more suspicious of them by the second. "Ah, Belle. I didn't see you there!" He loosened his collar. "Uh, Gaston. We, uh, gotta go."

"By sundown?" she repeated.

"Sundown." He nodded firmly before glowering at Lefou as he approached the carriage.

Belle watched him leave. She glanced at Nathaniel. "What do you suppose Papa is doing now?" she asked.

The little boy giggled, "Papa!" and tossed up a handful of dirt.

"My thoughts too," she smiled.

Two months.

That's how long Belle went without explanation as to why Gaston had arrived home nearly three hours after dark. She thought about grilling Lefou but the other man was oddly nowhere to be found. It was like Gaston knew Lefou couldn't keep whatever it was a secret.

She looked up from the book she was reading to Nathaniel at the sound of his knock. The first thing she noticed was the box in his hands.

He stepped into the bedroom and set it on the bed.

"What's this?"

He stood back looking thoroughly pleased with himself. He eagerly awaited her approval.

She removed the lid. "Oh, Gaston," she breathed. "It's lovely." She lifted the sturdy and velvety material.

Once again, he had managed to render her speechless. First Daisy and now this fine expensive but gorgeous burgundy dress. She still couldn't wrap her head around the fact that it was possible and so easy for Gaston to give her gifts without any reason.

"Wh-where-?"

"A seamstress passed through town and was offering a good price for her dresses. I took her the material that day I was home late. Lefou stayed in her town and brought it back for me." His grin was proud.

She smiled and put on the dress. She smoothed her hands over the fit. She loved the feeling of the heavy material over her body - surprised he managed to get her measurements right. She met his eyes in the mirror. She still struggled for words. "This is- You didn't have to- I mean, oh Gaston, I can't thank you enough!"

Her face was vibrant with happiness.

"Wear it tonight," he said. He came up behind her and ghosted his hands over her hips. "Please?"

She nodded lightly. Then her voice turned seriously with a tint of humor. "But Gaston-"

He met her eyes again.

"I won't be able to wear this dress often for long." Her mouth turned upward into a shy smile as he gave a slight frown. She took his hands and rested them over her abdomen.

Then he smiled widely and a deep hearty laugh left his throat. He picked her up and swung her around. "My Belle, my equal. You continue to make me the luckiest man in Villeneuve!"

She kissed him soundly.

Chapter Text

 

Gaston sat on the first step of the porch and watched Belle. "What are we going to name her?" he asked. He held their final youngest, just three days old, in his arms. She was holding onto his finger tightly, her big eyes looking up curiously at him.

She shrugged briskly. "I haven't the faintest."

He studied her. "You alright?"

She shook her head. "I'm insanely tired. And I can list at least three aggravating things each of your children has done since this week began." And the week had begun four days ago.

He made a hum. "Including me?"

Belle let out a breath and sat beside him. "No, for once not including you. You've been a very cooperative husband since she was born." She rested her head on his shoulder and peeled back the layer of cloth to see her daughter's content face.

He straightened himself and squared his shoulders ostentatiously. "I've changed," he winked.

She set him a glare. "Now don't start," she scolded.

His chuckle in response to her glare slowly quieted. He reworded his question, "So, what shall we name her?"

"You can name her," was the reply he got. Nostalgia settled on her features. "You've named Julia, Agatha, Amelia, it's only fair that you name her as well."

Gaston was silent for a moment. His mouth curved upward. "I never noticed I named our daughters (the author also did not notice this). But I did notice you named our sons."

She snorted as if it were extremely obvious. "Well, that's because I didn't want to end up with a Gaston Jr., Gaston III, Gaston IV, Gaston V-"

"I get it, woman," he grumbled playfully. Then he added just as humorously, "Just glad I didn't end up with another Maurice-"

Belle gasped false-scandalously. "Gaston!"

He chuckled then looked down at their newborn. He shifted his arms and brushed his thumb against her head. "She's perfect, Belle," he said quietly and in awe.

She noticed it was the same awe that always filled him every time she had given him another child. She looped her arm through his and sat closer, resting her head on his bicep. "She is."

"Just like all of her sisters," he continued. Then he turned his head to Belle, pressing a kiss on her head. "Just like her mother."

Belle's face grew warm and she pulled back. She shook her head. "Don't start," she warned.

"It's true, my love," he grinned widely. "You are perfect in every way-"

She scoffed then grimaced as she heard the emphasis on 'every'. "I am not perfect. Not in every way. Not in any way! I gained the most with her," she sighed and rubbled her temple. "It's going to take much longer for me to lose it."

But Gaston couldn't see what she saw. His eyes filled with a deep hunger. "You look the same to me, my beauty. Breathtaking, mhmm, sexy, perfect! The same beautiful girl in the village." He softly traced the side of her face before pulling her chin and kissing her sweetly.

The baby between them made a squawk of disapproval.

Both chuckled. "You are beautiful too, my darling," he assured her. Then he was quiet for a moment as he thought of a name for their precious bundle. Not two minutes passed before he decided. "Elle."

Belle set him a curious look.

His lip twitched with mirth as he voiced his reason. "Because it reminds me of you-"

She narrowed her eyes as she did not fully trust whatever it was he was about to say.

"-my wife, my love who I never wish to be parted from.." He winked at her and licked his lips, grinning devilishly. ".. that and it was your fault we had another child."

"Me? My fault?" she puffed indignantly. She nudged at him. "Gaston- you were the one walking around without a shirt-"

He boomed with laughter. "Can't a man do that in his own house? Besides, it was your obsession with beards and my greying hair that did you in. I simply did nothing."

"But you enjoyed it as much as I did," she jabbed with a smile.

"That I did," he growled lovingly. He pulled her closer.

Elle made a content sound.

Belle rested her head on his shoulder and he on her head. "And we made her."

"Aye, we did." He smiled softly. His chest rumbled, "I love you, Belle."

Hormones still plagued her and she felt happy tears well up in her eyes. "I love you too, Gaston."

Chapter Text

 

Belle floated just below consciousness, in that space where new parents usually spend their nights. Nathie would be awake soon and crying insistently for something. But time continued to pass and still no cries reached her ears. Panic brought her to her senses and she opened her eyes in jolt. Her heartbeat quickened. Something was amiss - she could almost feel it. The house was too quiet-

Her hand moved to wake Gaston but her palm hit the cold sheets instead. Then she heard a soft hum from the next room. She calmed instantly. He was with their son.

Curiosity got the better of her and she went to see.

He stood in the dark room save for the light of a single candle. He was without a shirt and wearing loose trousers. His back was to the door and Nathaniel was safely secured in his arms. And he was singing softly as he lulled the baby back to sleep.

She smiled and could hear the quiet fusses Nathie made as he tried to fight his slumber. She was content to watch the two in silence until she heard what he was singing.

Then she folded her arms and pursed her lips.

His grin was wide and his voice was hushed as he sung his famed lines that he and Lefou so proudly thought of during their many nights at the tavern. "No one... shoots like Gaston, douses lights like Gaston. No one's got a swell cleft in his chin like Gaston. And in a wrestling match, nobody bites like Gaston. Why, I'm burly and brawny. And I've got biceps to spare!" He saw a movement out of the corner of his eye. He chuckled his next line, "And no one gets brutally scolded by Mama like Gaston."

She hissed from the door, "Gaston!"

He continued to settle Nathaniel except he hummed his little tune instead. He set one-month-old back in his crib after he settled in his deep sleep.

"My love? I had no idea you were there," he smiled innocently. He returned to bed with her trailing- hm, fuming behind him. He lied down and watched her, very poutily, sit on her side.

Her head shook as firmly as the scolding finger she pointed at him. "No, no, no, no! No."

He chuckled. "It's just a song, sweetheart-"

Oh, she looked ready to object. "And he'll start to repeat it! No, I won't have it!" She huffed and puffed, "You are not allowed to sing that to our children! Ever!"

He easily dismissed the song. Quite put it out of his mind in fact, especially after she said what she said. The song, he would try that again some other time. Perhaps she would see that it was in fact the greatest song ever composed! But for now, he zeroed in on her other words. And he softly ran his hand up her outer thigh. "Children, eh?"

She glared at him. "No, Gaston."

He whined, "Belle." He attempted in tugging her to lie down close to him but she resisted... as usual.

Then she found humor in the situation and smiled, "No one says no to Gaston like Belle."

"Belle..." he tried again with a breath of defeat.

"Goodnight, Gaston."

Chapter Text

 

Belle gnawed on the wooden pencil as Gaston traveled in and out of the house. He was carrying boxes and boxes of items that had been taking up space in the house. They would need more room one last time, and these items no longer had any need in their home.

She watched as he wiped the sweat from his upper lip. His thick fingers wiped the sweat on his trousers and she imagined those digits doing wicked things to her after their children went to bed. She watched his biceps flex and his strong hands grip the last box. Her eyes traveled to his neck where a visible vein bulged as he lifted the heavy object. She licked her lips as she admired his flesh. She knew exactly what it tasted like when it was coated thinly with sweat. She unconsciously made a grunt of approval at what she saw.

He looked to the source of the mysterious noise. She was sitting on his armchair watching him do his work. Her face was flushed, her lips were parted, and she was as blossoming as ever. He raised an eyebrow. "You alright?"

She hadn't realized she made a sound. She nodded. "Yes, I'm fine."

His grey eyes flitted over her body stopping at her rounded belly. He took in its fine and soft curve that her dress so beautifully shaped. Her bosom was as full as she was with his child. He felt a stirring within him as he imagined himself kneeling before her and lightly lifting her dress and pressing loving kisses to her belly and then up to her breasts. He so loved it when she wore his puffy shirts.. the one with the drawstrings and that low, low neckline. And if she wore it just right with no undergarments, he could easily tug-

He cleared his throat. "Need anything else taken out?"

She gnawed on the pencil again and looked around. "No."

He nodded and disappeared out the door.

"Wait!" she called back.

He set the box on the wagon and returned to her.

She sat up. "You didn't pack up Nathaniel's old crib, did you?"

He gave an amused smile. "No, darling. We're having another baby. I think I know we're supposed to keep that wooden thing around."

"And did you take whatever Agatha said she was getting rid of?"

"The whatever that was sitting in the back room? Yes."

"And what about what Thomas said he wanted to keep?"

"He volunteered to clear out his boxes himself."

"And have you-"

"Would you like to inspect the house?" he interrupted.

She narrowed her eyes with sarcasm at him. "Yes."

He helped her up and shadowed her as she went through all the rooms and all the cupboards and chests. She was satisfied he did in fact get everything they didn't need anymore out.

It had only been a few steps, not much just to look over the house, but she grew tired easily. Age was taking its toll on her with this last pregnancy. She let out a weary sigh and leaned back against him.

She knew he hadn't strayed from her. He had a hard time leaving her alone since- well, they don't speak about what happened.

He wrapped his arms around her and rested his palms on her extended middle. He felt their son or daughter tumble within her. He knew she must be more than weary. He kissed her neck and rested his chin on her shoulder.

"Do you think it'll be a boy or a girl?" she asked quietly as they stood there.

"A girl," he replied without hesitation.

She turned her head.

He chuckled. "Gaston genes. No matter how much I love sons, I just know they prefer girls over boys."

She laughed and rested her head against him. She closed her eyes.

His chest rumbled with his question. "Want me to send-"

"At least wait until we're all outside," Jonathan complained as he regretted walking back into the house to his room. He turned on his heel and decided it'd be best if he waited at the wagon.

"Oh god, are they doing it again?" Agatha asked as she braved her way past her younger brother.

Gilbert chuckled and Julia laughed as they passed their parents and their complaining siblings.

Belle stood straight and turned in his arms. She draped her arms over his neck. "They're your children," she reminded him.

Gaston grinned, quite content with her pressed up against him. "Yes, they are."

Chapter Text

 

Belle stepped down toward the dress-shop and.. her husband was not where she had left him. She stopped and frowned and glanced around. He was usually watching himself in the mirror and/or eagerly waiting for her to be done with her 'alone' time. She didn't understand why he was so eager. He had courted-ish her and now they were married. He had gotten a wife and she had gotten someone familiar... What was there for him to be excited about?

A commotion from across town got her attention.

She looked and saw many people piling into the tavern - she groaned. This could only be Gaston's doing, and even though instincts told her to go back to the house and wait for him to return, she went to go see what the racket was about this time.

She managed to push her way through the rowdy men and women and into the clearing-

Though as soon as she was out in the open she quickly wanted to make a beeline for the door. She tried to slip away but he had seen her.

"Wait! Wait!" he shouted over the crowd.

She didn't like it that he sounded particularly excited. She refrained from cringing as he called her name. Instead she turned around and tried to smile at him and not pay attention to those around her - all were watching her.

He jumped off one of the tables and stopped beside a rather nice-looking man. But Gaston was grinning widely and boastfully and arrogantly and haughty and everything else Belle could think of.

She winced as he suddenly clapped the man's shoulder. "This man here-" She wasn't sure if he was speaking to her or the whole crowd.. "- has boasted in this tavern all day! All day!" She noted his voice raised and now she could tell he was talking to the entire crowd gathered in the tavern. "He didn't think I would be in town today! Well, he was greatly mistaken! He has said he is the best! The very best! At expectorating!"

Belle held in her grimace.

"Now!" He slapped the man again and shook his shoulders in a competitive manner. "We are going to settle this once and for all!"

The crowd cheered greedily but she didn't look so convinced.

He would do this with or without her - she did not need to be here. "I'll be outside," she tried.

"But Belle-" He was faster than her as she turned to leave. He grasped her hand and pulled her to the center of the tavern as if she were to be the mediator in the whole contest. He hoped his pull would encourage her to stay and watch her brilliant husband wow the entire village of Villeneuve and prove this idiot sorely wrong! She had to watch him puff out his chest and look exceptionally sexy while beating this boasting idiot. No one boasts better than Gaston. No one!

She followed his lead but took the opportunity to stun him. She passed him then made a fantastic twirl she believed she might never be able to do again. Then she let go of his hand when he stood there purely amazed by her. "Best of luck, Gaston!" she called as she made a beeline for the door. "I'll be outside!"


 

Chapter Text

 

"Belle!"

She frowned when she heard his shout from the bedroom. Whatever it was, he didn't sound pleased. She stepped in the doorway. "Yes?"

He held up his trousers. More specifically, the tan ones with the red and yellow suspenders sewn on... only the trousers seemed to missing the suspenders. Where the two materials attached sat a jagged mess of threads - it looked like sharp teeth had gnawed at them or someone had taken a knife to it. "These had suspenders last time I wore them. Just last week."

Belle was as dumbfounded with the concept of the missing suspenders as he was upset about it. She pursed her lips and shook her head as she thought. "I don't know. When Thomas and I went down to the river to wash, they were there. I have no idea-"

"Who was in charge of putting away the clothes?" he interrupted with a bite.

She frowned.

He looked very upset. Rightly so - the trousers had been his favorite, ones that had been with him through thick and thin. And he would not part so easily with items of great sentimental value.. or anything for that matter.

"I was, Gaston," she answered in a slightly stern voice. His attitude over a stolen pair of suspenders was going a little too far. She huffed, "Gaston-"

He interrupted her again - the brazen Gaston who very forwardly attempted to court her showed his face again full force after seventeen years of marriage. "Who would want to take suspenders? I mean, blasted suspenders!"

She gave a frustrated grunt. "I can mend them, if that's what you want-"

He waved her off. "I don't wish to trouble you." He thought for a moment. "Perhaps I can have a go at that popular style in Paris: belts-"

Her frustration with him flew away instantly at his thoughtful but outrageous remark. She snorted. "A belt? For other than holding your holster?" she teased. She stifled a laugh. "I can't imagine you wearing a belt. A belt is hardly fitting for a brave hunter."

He narrowed his eyes a bit then smirked. "A brave hunter, eh? Tell me, what else is this hunter best at?"

She rolled her eyes. "I have no idea where your suspenders ran off to. I'll mend them next week-"

"Next week?" He was thoroughly appalled.

She stopped in the hall and poked her head back in the room. "Don't tell me you've forgotten the festival? You remember, the one we promised we'd take our children to? Don't tell me you've forgotten how excited they all are to sell their handmade items?" She grinned at his dumbfounded face. "We promised we'd stay the entire week."

He grumbled and tossed aside the trousers. He griped and grumbled for other wears in the drawer as Belle laughed down the hall.

Amelia raised her arms and Belle picked her up, settling on the floor as her chair was currently taken up by Cedric who was working diligently on his carving. And sitting in Gaston's chair was Agatha who was placing the final touches on her dolls.

Belle smiled fondly then frowned a bit. There was something very familiar about Agatha's dolls... Her smile returned and she thought she'd return the shout.

"Gaston!"

He heard the smile in her voice so he wasn't in a big hurry to get to her. He pulled on a pair of dark brown trousers and straightened the pale red suspenders as he walked down the hall. He stopped in the doorway and looked expectantly at her.

Her eyes flitted to Agatha and back at him. Her smile widened and she looked like she wanted to laugh.

He obeyed and saw what had her so happy.

Agatha looked up. "Papa!" she beamed. She sprung from the chair and rushed up to him. She held up one of her dolls. "Papa! I'm going to sell this at the festival! What do you think? What do you think?" She was nearly bouncing on her toes.

He knelt to her height and took the offered doll. His mouth curled into an amused smile. "I say," he declared with mock-surprise. "This fella looks mighty familiar!"

She giggled. "That's you, Papa. I made one of Mama too-" She raced back to the chair and plucked it off the seat. She pushed it into his hand. "Do you like them?"

His thumb brushed over her fine sewing. Belle had taught her well in the two years she decided Agatha was old enough to handle a needle. Now at eight, she was proud - and willing - to sell her work. Gaston's smile grew.

The doll of himself indeed looked very much like him. From the hair to the cleft in his chin to the sewn grey eyes to the red and yellow suspenders. He chuckled a bit. Then he looked at the doll of Belle. He couldn't compare his doll to the beauty of hers. As it was in real life, Belle was much prettier... even though he was downright handsome.

Oh, some things were so confusing.

He lifted his head and Agatha timidly fiddled with the hem of her skirt. "Gilby said I did an awful thing by takin' your clothes without permission but- but the doll wouldn't look right if I hadn't. Tommy said you were going to be mad at me." She looked up at him with big and remorseful brown eyes. "Papa? Are you mad?"

He gave a breath. "I am not. But I would like you to ask me in the future." He grasped her small hand and kissed her knuckle. "I will admit, as Mama will say, I was a little upset to find my suspenders had been cut off.. but now I see they were put to better use."

She smiled then threw her arms around his neck and squeezed him tight. "I promise to ask next time."

"Good."


"Papa! Papa! Papa!"

The man Gaston was talking to raised his tankard and said, "Seems an excited lass is lookin' fer ya."

He chuckled and bid the man good-day. He turned in time to catch and lift his daughter onto his hip. "My, my, Atha, what has you so happy?"

She wrapped her arms around his neck. "Oh Papa! Someone bought my dolls!"

"Did they really?" he asked in astonishment. "Were they worthy of your hard work, my sweet? How much did they pay you for them?"

"Oh, Papa! That was the best part!" she said excitedly. "They said that I did a real nice job and that their niece would love the pretty girl doll. But Mama told him that both had to be sold together. He repeated what she said, then thought, and then he said he'd take them. Mama told him the price but he gave twice that!"

"Really my Atha?" he gasped.

She nodded. "Mama tried to tell him that it was only seven livres but he ins- ins-"

"Insisted?"

"Yes! Insist'd he give us fourteen!"

Belle handed an older woman change for Julia's patch of embroidery. Over the woman's shoulder she spotted her husband and daughter. Agatha looked very proud of herself and Gaston held a tender smile as she chatted away.

Later that evening, they sat against a tree in the midst of camp. She looped her arm through Gaston's elbow. She rested her head on his shoulder as they watched their children play in the fading sunlight. "All was successful."

He nodded. "Indeed."

"We're fourteen livres in debt, you know," she reminded him.

He looked at Agatha who was as lively and bright as ever, playing tag with Thomas and Julia. He smiled softly. "It's worth it."

Chapter Text

 

"Atha," Julia gasped softly.

Her younger sister came into the bedroom. "Huh?"

She held up a familiar doll.

Agatha matched her gasp. Tears sprung into her eyes and she carefully took the doll from her sister. The same doll she made all those years ago when she was eight. The doll that she was convinced she had sold at the festival.

"He- he- Papa kept it?" she asked in awe.

Julia nodded. "Both of them." She handed her the doll of Mama.

Agatha tried to make some sense of it. Losing her parents had been one matter, but finding out that Papa had kept the dolls and possibly looked at them often especially after she had left home made matters more upsetting.

"B-but... but a man bought them," she began, "I remember-"

Julia sniffed and closed the trunk she got them from. "He must've paid a man to purchase them. Then he kept them."

"... all these years." Agatha held her dolls close, thinking that if she held on tight enough Papa and Mama would come walking through the door and greet them with their smiles and laughter.

She whispered tearfully. "What I'd give to hug him tightly one last time." She smiled sadly. "And thank him."

"Mama was so lucky to have a husband like Papa," Julia admired.

She massaged the wedding band on her ring finger. She smiled to herself as she remembered the day Papa approved of her now-husband.

He had spent the entire afternoon with her intended before blatantly threatening the same threats to him. Her intended - a young man studying in Paris for his medical degree - did not flinch or cower at her papa's words. And that night, Papa had told her he felt nothing odd about the other. He believed he was a serious man who would do nothing but love and cherish her.

"Thank you for approving, Papa," she smiled shyly.

He shook his head and caressed her cheek. "I only want you to be happy. And this young man, he understands you and I know he will care for you and love you and make you the happiest woman in the world."

She threw her arms around him and hugged him tightly.

"Oh god, you two aren't crying again, are you?" Nathaniel griped from the doorway.

Amelia stepped on his toes as she passed. "Don't pretend like you didn't love them," she dared.

He pushed her playfully and she hit his shoulder just as. "I do love them," he replied. "It's just... all they did was kiss and hug and-"

"Love each other?" Cedric helped out his younger sister. "Gosh, Nathie. I thought you were that sappy with your wife?" He shook his head and tsked, "Poor Louisa. No wonder I see her always talking with that nice postal man-"

"That's her brother," he grunted. "I'm plenty sappy with my wife."

Amelia shuddered. "You should have seen them last holiday." She shuddered again. "Papa finally got back at him for all the times he complained about him kissing Mama," she laughed. "He told Nathie to get a room and that it was all inappropriate for the family gathering."

Nathaniel narrowed his eyes and ignored the fact that his face was turning red.

Elle squeezed past him and sat on the bed. She picked up one of Papa's hair ties from the bedside table and fiddled with it.

While she enjoyed hearing her brothers and sisters reminisce about their parents, it stung her to know that being the youngest, she hadn't had nearly as much time with them as they had.

She was grown and had gotten married three years ago. She and her siblings visited Mama and Papa quite often. So often that a few of their respective spouses started to complain. She laughed lightly.

Then her laugh quieted and she asked a question to no one in particular. "Do you think they're happy? Wherever they are?"

"I dare say they are," Gilbert remarked softly. He stood beside Nathaniel and looked around the room. The very room he and the rest often raided in the early mornings when they were children.

Jonathan agreed. "They were always so happy."

"Even when Papa had his moods," Thomas chuckled.

Agatha laughed. "Mama had her fair share of moods too, don't you remember?"

Julia picked up Mama's book of Romeo and Juliet. She opened it and set it down, open on the shelf. She turned to her siblings and her voice went watery. "I wouldn't dare to imagine what their lives would have been if they hadn't married."

Nathaniel couldn't remain as strong as he would have liked. He wiped at his eyes but the lump in his throat corrupted his speech. "Papa couldn't live without Mama."

Elle hiccuped a sob as she remembered the day before.

Julia couldn't watch her suffer alone. She sat beside her and pulled her into a tight hug. Elle's cries grew as she felt the rest of her brothers and sisters join. They had most likely known that their parents' times were coming to an end, but she had been so convinced they would live forever.

She was the one to find Papa and she had lied in Mama's spot, curling against his cold body. And she had cried and cried until Nathaniel had scooped her up and taken her back into her old room. He had held her tightly until she had cried herself to sleep.

They let her sob and sob until she couldn't any longer.

"Are you okay?" Gilbert asked quietly after her cries lessened.

She vaguely nodded then shook her head. "I don't know."

"We'll all not be okay for some time," Nathaniel voiced. He lied back on the bed and looked up at the ceiling. His thoughts were blank.

Amelia joined except she lied across him - her back smooshing his stomach. It was bittersweet that he didn't complain sarcastically as she crushed him.

Jonathan lied on the floor as the bed was too small for nine adults. Cedric joined him and both were silent.

Gilbert sat back on the bed, against the wall. Thomas stretched out as cramped as he was over his legs.

Elle leaned heavily into Julia whose hold never faltered.

And Agatha stood at the sound of eager footsteps.

A little girl with curly brown hair and green eyes scampered down the hall then stopped in the doorway of the bedroom. Her happy eyes dimmed as she looked for her mother. "Momma, Apa says we have to go."

Julia sighed. She kissed Elle's head and picked her way through her sprawled brothers. "Momma's gonna stay here with her brothers and sisters, alright? You and Apa and your brothers are going home."

The little girl pouted.

Julia swallowed. Standing in her parents' home in what felt like her father's presence, saying her daughter's name was even more heart-wrenching than she thought.

"Jules, don't give me that look," she scolded gently. "Come on. We'll talk to Apa about this." She took her daughter's hand and led her from the house.

Gilbert spoke after Julia left. "Madeleine and I discussed it already. In three days, we came to an agreement."

Cedric prompted him with a hum.

"She and I and our family will live here," he said. "I'd hate to see someone different entirely live in the very house we grew up in."

Their response was silent but Gilbert knew they approved. It was all too painful to acknowledge yet.

One by one, they left the room. Elle was the last to leave. She straightened out the sheets on the bed and returned Papa's hair tie to the table. Then she set the book Julia left open on the bed, on their pillows.

She closed the door behind her.

Written just inside the book was Belle's handwriting:

"Boundless as the sea" - Gaston read this book for me. He is truly making an effort, you know. He's trying to change. But I dare not to believe it just yet.

He named our first daughter after Juliet. I do think he loves her as much as he does our boys.

Then he gave me a life of love.

A pause followed, then the writing continued. This time of weak handwriting.

You gave me a life I shall remember always.

I wish we could be as immortal as words on pages, as the stories and fairytales we tell our children and grandchildren. I wish the light in my world could never fade...

But I leave you this note, in case you ever find yourself alone on the nights I can never again come to you. I leave you with my written love and gratitude that I- that you told me to at least think it over and to give you a chance.

I hate to imagine where I would be if I hadn't. I don't think I would be happy.

My precious love, my soul is light and as young as ever but I fear my body cannot stand such sickness any longer. It hurts me that I will leave, but I do not wish for you to remember me on my last nights.

I wish for you to remember me as the most beautiful girl in the village, as the mother of our nine children, and as the loving wife I never grew tired of being.

I lived a life of strong love, my darling. And I hope you are not too saddened with my ending. I am content and at peace. I wish the same for you.

Oh, my darling. There are not enough words and time in this world to describe what and how much you mean to me.  I love you, my brave hunter, my captain, my love who I will never forget.

Goodbye, Gaston.

Another pause followed before more words of a rougher handwriting wrote:

I wouldn't dare being parted from you for more than a heartbeat. I can only hope you are patiently waiting for me beyond.

My heart aches and I feel strange and empty. I cannot bear to believe that you have gone.. that we are to bury you. I fear this note shall not give me the comfort I need. For I need you, my love.

I need your warmth and your smile. I need to hear your voice and hear your laugh. I need to hold you as I have every night since the moment you told me you loved me. I need to feel your heart beat beneath my palm. I need your ear to find my own steady heartbeat. And I need us to be happy again. I am heartbroken.

A second away from you is a lifetime of loneliness.

Perhaps tomorrow when we place you in the ground, I can attempt at peace.

Goodnight, my darling. I love you, always and forever.

Another pause. Then Elle's broken handwriting smudged by tears scrawled: Tomorrow never came for Papa.

Chapter Text

 

It was only supposed to be an outing! One simple outing to get the lot out of the house for a few hours!

Then the hunter had to see it! And before Lefou knew it, he had lit a few small pinecones, climbed the tree, and stuffed them in. To add to his nerves, the man's children even cheered and muttered excitedly as he did what he did. Lefou grew increasingly nervous as the smoky cloud started to clear.

He had his back to his friend as chewed on his nails. "Gaston, I've said it once and I'll say it again. I don't think this is a good idea..."

The hunter grunted. "There's nothing to worry about, Lefou."

The smaller man chewed on his nails. "You're going to fall and I'm going to get in trouble."

"Nonsense," he scoffed though he knew Belle wasn't averse to extending punishments to Lefou.

Little oohs and ahhs sounded as Gaston righted with a full jar of honey. "There, not a scratch," he aimed at his friend.

The other turned at looked him over. Then he pointed to his arm. "You do have a welt."

He unbuttoned his sleeve and lowered it. "Problem solved. Come on, let's get home before those bees come to their senses."

Their house soon came into sight. Before he turned them loose as they always liked to race to the door, he eyed them sternly. "Not a word of this to your mother. Understood?"

Thomas, Agatha, Nathie, and Gilbert nodded fervently.

He looked at Julia who kept her nose in the book he could not succeed in parting from her. "Julia? Got that?"

She glanced up. "Yes, Papa."

He still looked at her. Out of all their children, she was the most likely to tell Belle about any wrongdoing.

She gave an exasperated sigh. "I won't say anything about this to Mama."

Agatha was the first to barrel into the house. She held up the jar of honey with a boastful grin. "Mama! Look what we caught-"

Thomas soon in after her, elbowed her.

"-got!"

Belle took the jar.

Gaston chanced a look at her as he hung his coat.

She looked skeptical and he didn't blame her. The nearest sold honey was twenty miles away - and that wasn't Villeneuve. And Belle knew he had not taken the wagon and the children were still as rambunctious as ever and not bone-tired and they were all home at a reasonable hour.

Her eyes narrowed and he hoped she would be merciful and not box his ears just now.

She set the jar on the table and smiled at the children. "We'll have to make some honey cake tomorrow."

They cheered and Gaston slowly let out the breath he was holding in.

"Now, come on! Go get washed up for supper! You're nearly late!" she hurried, smiling when her children raced to the washroom. "Lefou, you're welcome to stay for supper."

The man who was nervously wringing his hands in anticipation of her frying both Gaston and him gave a shake of his head. "Thank you, Belle. But I better get back into town. Gaston," he bid goodbye.

The hunter shook his head and sent Lefou a firm but desperate look. They argued silently for a minute until Belle looked up.

"Good evening," Lefou said. He gave Belle a kind smile then shot a glare to Gaston. He closed the door behind him.

Gaston seemed glued on the spot as she neared him. This was it. She was going to give him a firm scolding-

"Get washed up too, dear," she said softly. She squeezed his shoulder then stepped into the kitchen. He was still standing there when she set out plates. "Jonathan is down for his nap in our room. He has a bit of a cold. Do you mind if he sleeps with us?"

Oh. She didn't yell at him. She didn't even mention it. He was safe... for now. "What? Oh uh, no. No, that's alright."

Supper was talkative as usual. The children chatted away while Belle listened with a soft smile. She noticed they were careful not to speak about where they had gotten the honey. Her smile turned to a knowing smirk.

Jonathan's cry filtered through the room. Belle pushed back her chair but Gaston shook his head.

"I'll get him," he said. He kissed her temple before he left the room, "You've been taking care of him all day. Let me."

He returned an hour after supper ended. Jonathan had attempted to put up a fuss for Belle instead but eventually relented as he grew tired. He sat in his armchair across the room and closed his eyes.

"You took them to the forest, didn't you?" her guess floated into his ear.

He opened his eyes and she took a seat on his lap.

She wasn't mad. At least she didn't look it. But he could never really tell such things with her... and her air of mysteriousness was something he loved about her.

Just not right now.

She smoothed back his hair, lightly tracing a faded scar on the side of his face. "Did you let them climb the trees?"

He hesitated. "Yes, but not the one with the nest."

She opened the jar of honey. "I just looked in the cupboards. I don't have any flour. Will you be a doll and go get me some in the morning?" she asked, sneaking a bit off her finger.

He made a hoarse noise. "Huh?"

She closed the jar and shifted in his lap. She touched her honey-coated finger to his bottom lip. "Yes, the one Carlotta always has on hand." Then she made a noise that made Gaston fidget. "Ooh, but she always sells them to me. You'll have to- Oh, no that's not going to work."

She pursed her lips then shook her head. "Nevermind, I'll go down myself-"

Gaston tried with all his might not to take her words a different way.

"-and while I'm there, I'll get some eggs and apples. Yes, yes," she kept muttering to herself.

"No, no. I'll go into town," he quickly said. "I'll convince Carlotta to sell me the flour. Don't worry, my de-ar!"

She straddled him during his term of endearment. "Wonderful!" she beamed.

She set the jar aside and wrapped her arms around his neck. He pulled her closer and linked his hands behind her waist.

Her pleased hum filled him in more ways than one. "Hm, Gaston, you're the best," she teased.

He grinned. "So are you."

Her face turned surprised and he had no idea where his words had come from but neither questioned it.

Chapter Text

 

"Granpapa!" the three gasped with glee at the sight of Maurice stopping in.

Little Thomas kicked his legs in matching excitement as Belle greeted her father. "How was your trip?" she smiled.

"Wonderful! And I come bearing gifts." He hauled in a large burlap sack. It thudded on the wooden floor.

Belle sent him a disapproving look. "Oh, Papa, you shouldn't have."

"What?" he chuckled mildly incredulous. "I have grandchildren that are in need of spoiling."

She playfully nudged his shoulder. She turned to the sound of boots coming down the hall. Thomas kicked his legs in excitement again.

Gaston playfully squeezed his feet as he passed. He spotted his father-in-law. "Maurice," he greeted. "How was London?"

"Good food, good company, good men. Can't complain." He clapped Gaston's shoulder affectionately and the army captain did the same.

Then the hunter toed the bag. "What's this?"

"Oh, just a few things that caught my attention over there," he mused.

He gave the older man a look similar to Belle's. "Maurice, you didn't have to-"

"Listen to the two of you!" he tsked goodnaturedly. He reached in the bag as he continued, "Can't a grandfather buy things for his grandchildren?"

He produced a doll that had three-year-old Julia giddier than she already was. She reached for her new best friend and hugged it fiercely.

"T'ank you, Gr'npapa," she smiled toothily. She hugged him.

"You're quite welcome, my little one," he beamed.

Gilbert and Nathaniel were practically bouncing on their toes as they ever impatiently waited. Gilbert gave a right whoop when he was handed a book. "Thank you very much, Granpapa!"

Belle smiled as he recited it so perfectly to the point it sounded very rehearsed.

Nathaniel knew he was next. Thomas was a baby still- okay, he was two but he didn't need a gift. No, he was next. He waited and waited and-

Maurice pulled out a box.

The young boy's face grew sore from smiling so widely.

Granpapa opened the box.

Nathie grew anxious and excited- more than he already was.

Then the boy wilted. Granpapa had pulled out a delicate white rose from the box and offered it to Mama. He frowned.

Belle gave her father a curious look. "Papa, all the way from London?"

He chuckled. "No, from down the hill. I couldn't return without finding you one."

"Oh," she said. Nostalgia hit her and she remembered all the times she'd ask him to bring her back a rose. She took the item and pressed it to her nose and inhaled deeply. It was wonderful.

Maurice caught sight of his grandson's frown. "Now don't worry. I haven't forgotten about you." He reached into the bag then stopped. He hesitantly glanced at his daughter. Then he decided to go for it.

He pulled out another box and opened it. He handed the handmade leather encased object to Nathaniel-

"No!" Belle intervened suddenly.

Nathaniel jumped at her harsh tone. He looked to his father.. who was also startled and even a little curious.

She snatched the proffered object from Maurice's hand. "No," she repeated forcefully.

Gaston zeroed in on what she held and plucked it from her. He took it out and analyzed it. He made a grunt of approval. "Wise choice, Maurice. It's a fine blade." He ran an experienced finger along the edge. "I dare say I didn't purchase one of these until after the war."

Belle sent her husband a scathing glare. "No! He's too young!"

His mouth curved with a grin. "Great hunter's gotta start somewhere." He looked at her. His mirth turned to slight pity as he realized what was going through her head. "Belle-"

"Don't you give me that look." She swiped his upper arm. "He's too young and I don't want him to be a hunter. No offense."

He scoffed. "Sustainability, darling. It's fending for yourself without having to rely on others."

She opened her mouth to give a sharp retort but he cut her off. He knew the exact comment she'd give right after his sentence finished.

"You know what I mean." He sheathed the knife. "Besides, wasn't this part of your compromises?"

She folded her arms and shook her head as if not ready to believe the things she had said to him eight years ago.

"You teach them how to read and write. I teach them how to hunt and work." He chuckled at her pout. "Didn't think your compromises would bite you in the butt, did you?"

She pouted more especially when Gaston handed Nathie the blade. She frowned more. "But he's my little boy," she sighed sadly.

Gaston barely heard her. He wrapped his arm around her waist and both watched their oldest look at his new gift.

Chapter Text

 

She turned over and rested her hand on his shoulder...

Only, her hand hit the cold sheets instead. Her eyes opened and she stretched. He certainly wasn't in bed beside her as he had been hours before. She sat up and shrugged on her robe and went to investigate.

A vague light flickered at the end of the hall. She cautiously turned stood at the end and looked around toward the dining table.

He sat at the table when her hesitant figure appeared in the room. His hunting knife sat deep in a block of wood. His hands were tense and he yanked the weapon from its lodge.

"Gaston?"

His hand tightened momentarily. Then he set the blade down.

She stepped closer until she could see his face in the flickering candlelight.

He looked worn and troubled. His brow was tight and his lips were set in a firm line. His jaw was clenched as if he was bothered by her presence. His eyes stared unfeeling at the empty space beside her. He seemed uninterested in her curiosity and worry. But he was the one to ask first. "Are you alright?"

She placed her hands on the chair opposite him. She looked down at the knife. "Your side of the bed was cold and I woke up."

He gave a dismissive grunt. "Had a night terror but I'm fine. Go back to bed." But to his annoyance she pulled out the chair and sat down instead.

"Do you think the attack from the beast brought them back?"

A breath lodged in his chest and he let it out slowly. Her question was innocent. He felt the urge to lie to her rise then fall. "They've never left."

Her mouth went slack but she couldn't recover in time.

He stood abruptly, suddenly not wishing to talk about it. The war happened thirteen years ago - he should be over the pain already. He should be over the images of his enemies charging the ranks, his soldiers lying dead, his own life dependent on someone's actions. He should not be bothered anymore. He was the great war hero not some coward who cried over bitter and dead memories.

He couldn't let Belle see him this way. He gripped the dagger. "Go back to bed. I'll be there in a bit."

She watched him. "Where are you going?"

"For a walk." He flashed a reassuring smile that Belle refused to believe. His eyes remained dark and stormy.

She stood as well and took a step closer to him. "Gaston, I want to help-"

"You can't," he snapped. She flinched and he regretted the frustration in him that was not aimed at her. He let out a breath and gave a pained look. He glanced at the space beside her head. "Just.. just go back to bed." He stepped outside and closed the door behind him. He couldn't look at her.

She opened the door with the intent to follow but he had already gone from view. With a slight groan, she closed it and returned to bed. She curled under the covers and waited.

Her eyes were just sliding shut when the bed gently dipped. She waited until he stopped moving before she turned to face him. He didn't look at all surprised to find her still awake.

She could make out his face in the darkness, with only the light of the moon filtering in through the window. "You don't have to hide from me. Please, I want to help."

He stared at her then shook his head. "No, Belle."

They had been at odds recently for a number of reasons - the beast's attack, sleepless nights filled with quaking dreams, his evenings in the tavern, her insistence at avoiding him... which was probably why he spent his nights in the tavern, the impending arrival of their child...

But she looked at him and worried her bottom lip. What she was about to say was true, but she hoped it would get him to talk. She thought if she told him one of her secrets, he'd want to share his.

"Ever since the beast's attack, I've... I've had night terrors."

He looked at her. His own troubles and anxieties forgotten. "Why haven't you woken me when they happen?"

To her surprise, he sounded hurt. She gave a light scoff and brushed off his concern. "Because I can take care of them myself."

His tone was firm and a little cold. "I've had to live with these terrors since I was fourteen. That is something I would not wish for you to endure. These night terrors are a part of me." Then he muttered as an afterthought, "Perhaps I should have told you this before we married."

She looked at him as if he had grown a second head. Gaston. War hero, boastful, arrogant Gaston pitying himself? Hating himself? She wouldn't believe it.

"It's not just you anymore. You have me. We have each other- to help and get through together-"

He didn't even attempt to stop his frustrated snort.

She sat up. "What is that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing."

"Gaston."

"Go to bed."

Her patience grew thin. "Not until you tell me-"

"I have you, yes. I am well aware of that," he growled suddenly. "But you do not dare to have me." He turned over and faced the wall. His tone wasn't kind, "Goodnight."

Belle knew he wasn't simply talking about night terrors anymore... but their tense marriage. What he said was true, but she did not love him the way he did her.

But it stung her to hear how she had made him feel.

Chapter Text

 

Louisa gripped Nathaniel's hand tightly as they both sat patiently waiting for his parents' approval of their new son Peter.

She knew her husband had eight other siblings, one of which had just turned three and was currently trying get Leo, her brother, to look at a drawing she made. But Louisa was the second youngest in her family. The youngest was Leo who was sixteen.

It's not that she didn't approve of Nathaniel's siblings or his parents' plain love amd admiration for one another...

She tensed when her son started to make a fuss. She sat forward to take him from Belle but the woman didn't hand him over. She tried not to grow impatient and needy.

Nathaniel kept his arm around her as if she were to forcefully take the child from his parents. "They know what they're doing," he whispered gently.

Of course she knew that! But even that reassurance wouldn't calm her. "But he's been making such a fuss lately and it's hard to quiet him- I just don't want him to start screaming as he has been-"

"Shh," he soothed. He gave a nod toward his parents.

She looked back to see Gaston holding her fussy baby. Her breath hitched. She knew he was a kind man.. but he was first a gruff hunter. She was uncomfortable. "His cries are getting louder. He needs me-"

"Louisa, Louisa. He's alright," he tried gently. He knew where her attitude was headed and he hoped she wouldn't make a scene.

"How can you be so calm?" she hissed with a fierce glare.

He squeezed her hand. "Because by being the oldest, I have inadvertently been volunteered to help care for them starting with Thomas when they were infants. You know this, dear."

But she frowned and spoke against her husband. "Monsieur Gaston, may I have my son?"

The hunter looked up at the very formal name but obliged. He stood and placed the whimpering baby back in her arms. He sat beside Belle again, taking up her hand and placing a small kiss on her palm.

Nathaniel watched his wife get up and leave the room in haste. He noticed she seemed to be comforting herself more than Peter. He glanced at his parents - apology must have shown on his face because his father spoke.

"It's natural for her to feel overprotective of her child," he smiled.

He let out a hesitant laugh at that. "Glad you're so understanding." He cringed as it sounded self-pitying.

Belle sat forward. "What is it like at her parents'? Are they sour towards her? Towards your son?"

Nathaniel knew he had said too much. "No, no. They're fine- wonderful, even."

"Does she not approve that you have a sister who is nearly his age?" Gaston wondered none too lightly.

He wished he hadn't been so open with his parents. "No, no. She's fine with it- wonderful about it." He met his father's unconvinced gaze and then it all came pouring out. "She's overwhelmed with everything and I can't calm her. I tell her I have experience in caring for babies and she becomes angry with me like she should know before me and that I should do is go to work and not be around my son. I spoke to Captain Alois and he said her mother was the same way. That he was hardly present during his children's upbringing."

"Captain Alois is a very proud man," Gaston spoke. "Shame he wasn't proud enough to choose a better wife- ow!" he grunted as Belle sharply elbowed his side.

Nathaniel continued, "I don't want to be like that. I love her but-"

He cut him off with a stern tone. "Don't. You love her. You keep loving her. You work it out amongst yourselves."

"She doesn't listen to me!" he snapped suddenly.

Belle took that as her cue to leave. She squeezed Gaston's hand then scooped Elle from her perch on Leo, saving the young man from his prison sentence by the toddler. "Let's go look for Auntie Louisa, shall we darling?" she suggested bubbly to her daughter.

She stepped out onto the porch and spotted Louisa standing under the tree still trying to soothe Peter. She looked at the young woman - she could easily tell she was just a few days away from losing her sanity.

"Hello," she greeted softly.

Louisa looked over her shoulder and gave Belle a stiff smile. "I'm fine, Madame," she brushed off. "So is Peter. He's just not had his nap today."

Elle squirmed and she set her down. "Of course, Louisa. I wasn't going to inquire. You should know everything that's going on with your child. I understand." She sat on the ground in the shade and leaned against a stone.

"I quite forgot what it was like to have a child that small," she mused aloud. "It was bittersweet to hold him, but I know he'll be deeply loved by both his parents."

Louisa frowned. "Forgive me, Madame, but isn't she-" She pointed to Elle. "- three years old?"

Belle laughed lightly and watched her little girl pick her way through the garden. "She is. So you think I should not be so emotional over it?" She raised an eyebrow.

"Oh, well, uhm, no I uh-" the woman stuttered.

"I thought I was too old to have any more children and then one day, well," she smiled to herself. "One day that was not the case."

The sound of a cabbage squishing in the dirt caught both women's attention. Louisa gave a short and scandalized gasp. Had she or any of her brothers and sister been caught doing that, they would have been sent to work in the stables for punishment. She looked to Belle who seemed like this was not the first time someone had done that.

"I swear, sometimes.. that man," she huffed goodnaturedly. "She must do everything her papa does. I'm very lucky he doesn't sing that song of his anymore.. She'd repeat it!"

"Your- your husband so carelessly steps on your produce?" Louisa feared she would start hyperventilating with such news.

Belle shrugged. "I believe he only does it when I'm around. It's more of an old joke than purposely destroying the cabbages. But Elle's seen him too many times and now-" She caught her daughter as she jumped and landed solidly against her. "She does it herself. Always has to be watched when she's outside, otherwise..." she laughed.

Louisa joined her mother-in-law on the ground. Peter was still putting up a fight.

"May I?" Belle asked, gesturing to the baby.

"I'd rather you not," she winced. She held Peter tightly as if Belle would take him by force.

Elle scampered away again and went to stir up more trouble.

"Forgive me, Louisa, but is your mother staying with you?" she tried to ask innocently. "I know if my Julia were to have a child of her own, I'd stay with her for a few months, you know, to show her the ropes of motherhood."

The young woman grew cold. "It's none of your business."

She pursed her lips. "Listen, Louisa. Gaston and I adore you and we see you as our own daughter. If you ever need help-"

Louisa scoffed sharply. "I am Peter's mother, not you. I should know how to care for him."

Belle watched Elle climb the steps and push the front door open.. then she was off again no doubt to her father.

She sighed. "I never knew my mother. I hadn't really thought about raising kids.. I was more worried if their father would approve. We weren't getting along well even though he was adamant he loved me. But I wondered if he would grow to resent me.

"I wondered if I were to bear a child, would he despise it if it were any less perfect than he? If it were girl? Would he be cruel and heartless? I had heard the stories of his father... Would the apple not fall so far from the tree?

"I told him I was with child and he surprised me. He was so happy..." She smiled fondly at the memory. "I'd never seen him so happy. And a weight was lifted for a while.

"Then a new fear rose as my time grew near." She fidgeted her hemline. "I worried that he wouldn't be a father to our kids. I feared he was going to leave me to raise them while he spent his days in the tavern because raising children was woman's work.

"Oh but he was enraptured by our son, Louisa. So smitten." She closed her eyes thinking if she could remember that day, she could wake up and her little Nathie would still be in her arms, not all grown up. "We hardly had any sleep that night. We were too in love with him to need any.

"In the middle of the night, I told him he didn't have to stay up. That I would take care of the baby-" A laugh cut her off. "He told me it was I who needed rest. That he would be with Nathie, caring for him.

"Oh, Louisa, I cried and cried. Here was this man I had treated and kept treating so unfairly but yet, he did everything he could to be a good husband and father.

"We learned together. We learned how to care and raise our kids. He had been an only child, his mother miscarried a baby girl when he was ten. He seldom speaks about his mother. She died when he was off to war. Papa could only give us so much advice. The rest we had to figure out ourselves.

"And when Nathaniel was five, we had Thomas. We didn't want our children to be dependent and know little of how to care for one another. So we had him help out a bit and from there and each child after, he learned how to care for infants and toddlers. Everyone did."

She looked at her daughter-in-law. "He doesn't mean to know more than you. Yes, you are Peter's mother but he is Peter's father. Raising a child is like marriage, Louisa, it takes working together. And no one expects it to be perfect."

Peter was still crying. And Louisa tearfully handed him over to Belle. "If- if your offer still stands, I'd like for you to stay with us for a bit."

Belle smiled.

"You ladies need any help?" Gaston asked from the porch.

"He's still being fussy, my love," Belle sighed. Then she gave him a grin. "Want to have a go?"

He matched her grin and soon lifted the unhappy boy from her.

Belle watched knowingly and Louisa watched with awe as Peter's cries slowly ceased to soft whimpers.

"Mon-Monsieur Gaston, would you be interested in staying with us for a few weeks... you know, helping out?" Louisa asked.

Belle feigned hurt. "I thought it was settled I'd go?"

Louisa gave a small and shy glance.

"I am only teasing, love. I think Gaston would be a better choice too."

Chapter Text

 

Gaston quietly leaned against the doorframe. He had heard her sweet melody from their room.

"How does a moment last forever? How can a story never die? It is love we must hold onto. Never easy but we try. Sometimes our happiness is captured. Somehow a time and place stands still. Love lives on inside our hearts and always will..."

"Mama?" Thomas asked. "Who is the song about?"

She smoothed back his hair and kissed his head. "Granpapa and your grandmother. She was a beautiful woman. They were devoted to each other and their love was pure."

"Just like you and Papa?" Julia asked.

Belle smiled tenderly. "Just like me and Papa." She bid her lovelies goodnight. "Now go to sleep."

"Night Mama," they recited. "Night Papa."

Belle turned to the door and spotted her husband standing there. She closed the door softly behind her. "I didn't think you were still up."

He gave a shrug. "I was waiting for you to join me. Thought an exceptionally long bedtime story might have been keeping you."

She smiled. Then she took in his tender stance. "You're supposed to be off that leg until it's healed," she gently scolded.

"And miss the chance to hear you sing?" he grinned. "Never."

Chapter Text

 

Agatha was glued to the front window waiting for Papa to return home. Mama said he had wrote letters and that he promised to be home on that very night! She pouted as the sun was starting to set and still no sign of him.

"Atha, dear," Belle called from the kitchen. "Help your brother set the table."

But the little girl couldn't part from the window. "But what if I miss Papa?"

She and her brothers and sister had it all planned out. Though Papa would be tired and Mama would give them a firm scolding for it, they decided last night they'd tackle him.

Nathaniel and Gilbert would lead the charge. They were the heaviest and the tallest and would be able to knock Papa down. Jonathan and Thomas were next and they would be the reinforcement when Papa didn't lose his balance. Then she and Julia and Cedric would follow adding to the weight already on him.

He would most likely laugh and greet them just as enthusiastically. Agatha smiled to herself.

Belle watched her youngest girl. "He'll be here later tonight, love. Now come on for supper."

The event started off buzzing with excitement. Everyone hadn't seen the man of the house for three solid months. Or as Gilbert put it - as Gaston promised to teach him how to shoot a crossbow - he had been gone three months, one week, and five days.

And everyone could agree that things just weren't the same without Papa.

After supper, Agatha sat on Belle's lap. She yawned widely as all the children were struggling to stay awake. "Mama, are you sure Papa will be back tonight?"

"Yes, I'm quite sure. Remember Papa wrote a few days ago and said he had done all he could on the trip and knew he just had to come home to us."

Time ticked on and supper was soon a thing of four hours past. Belle was amazed at how long all managed to stay up... although Cedric, just two, was curled up on the floor with one of their dogs.

Thomas yawned and whined impatiently. "Mama, you said Papa would be here-"

Julia added drowsily and pleaded, "Please don't make us go to bed before he comes home."

"Yeah.." Jonathan continued from his haphazard position on the sofa on Nathaniel. "We're not tired..." His eyes were half-closed.

"I'll step out and have look, alright?" Belle offered to her nearly incoherent offspring.

She wrapped her arms around herself as the cold wind whipped her shawl. The sun was fairly high in the sky as she saw Gaston off. "How will I know it's you when you come home? I mean, I don't wish to open the door to a stranger-"

He took out his pistol and unloaded it. She watched as he set the hammer back and-

"You're going to shoot at the house? Gaston, that is the stupidest thing I've ever heard!" she started before he continued. "You're going to frighten everyone half to death! Including me! You're not going to have a wife to come home to as I will be long out from a heart attack-"

"Belle," he interrupted sternly. "Look." He blocked the sun and the pistol was in shade. "It's too bright out but when I get home.. I don't know how else to explain it without it sounding weird-"

"Oh it's weird alright," she snorted.

He gave her an amused lopsided smile. "You'll know it's me. Alright?"

She looked skeptical.

To which he chuckled, "Trust me."

She still looked skeptical.

Under the moonlight, she noticed a figure walking on tired legs up the hill. She stepped away from the house slowly, unsure if it was really him. She waited for whatever harebrained idea he had been referring to before he left.

Then she saw a yellow and orange spark of ignited gunpowder.. of the unloaded pistol.

"Oh that man," she said fondly to herself.

Then she poked her head into the quiet living room. "Come on, my sweets. Papa's home."

Life sprung into them and all managed to pile out of the house without knocking each other over. Belle stifled a laugh as they collected at the edge of their yard. She wasn't sure how this was going to go but she had a feeling it would be worthwhile.

Gaston caught sight of them all in the moonlight. Home was just ahead. Soon he would be laid out in front of the warm fire sipping on some of that ale Belle had hid in the cupboard when she thought he wasn't looking. He could feel the ache in his legs and the tension in his shoulders disappear at the sight of home.

He grinned tiredly as Nathaniel and Gilbert bounded for him. Then he barely had enough time to toss aside his rifle before they collided into him.

He stumbled, yes, he stumbled but Gaston was proud to say he didn't fall. He did not fall over. Ha! Those kids would have to try harder than that!

"Oof!"

He soon saw the night sky as two more bodies hit him. Then he found his hearty laugh.

His girls landed next, squishing their brothers. Then there was some encouragement for the youngest who looked - as Gaston craned his neck to see - like he had just been woken up.

"Come on, Ced!" Nathie laughed. "Come on!"

Julia grinned. "Come on, Cedric. Jump! Jump on Papa!"

Gaston felt his love for Belle and his family swell at the sight of Cedric taking a daring leap with all his might. He landed against Gaston's side to which the man over-exaggerated the impact. He grinned when Cedric giggled.

It seemed over all too soon.

"Alright, you lot," Belle called behind them. "Papa's got to get inside and you've got to go to bed."

But the stubborn spawn of Gaston - as Belle so lovingly put it on their most aggravating days - wouldn't dare to leave without argument. For a solid five minutes, they quarreled... back and forth... children against parent... while Gaston recovered his bearings.

Then he interrupted. His voice wasn't stern or upset. "That's enough. Go on to bed. Whoever is not up by sunrise will stay home."

Belle sent him a curious look and he waved her off.

Seven - well, six (Cedric was half asleep in Belle's arms) pairs of excited eyes gazed up at him. "What is it, Papa? What are we going to do?"

He chuckled. "You'll have to go to sleep to find out," he said. He looked up and winked at his wife who playfully rolled her eyes.

And without argument, they raced inside.

But Belle was amazed at how seriously curious they were. Was it the surprise that had them excited or was it finally getting to spend the day with the very man who had been gone for such a long time? She believed it was the latter.

In record time, all were tucked in and kissed goodnight... Belle waited out in the hall as Gaston was requested for an extra goodnight from all. Except Cedric for he was out before Belle had put him on his bed.

Gaston closed the door softly. He turned to the woman he had been longing to be close to for the past three months. He smirked and tugged her close.

"I've missed you," he rumbled as his lips found her forehead.

She leaned into his embrace and inhaled his woodsy scent. "How was your trip?"

He groaned. "Too long." He gently twisted his fingers through her hair. "And you? How was everything here?"

She crinkled her nose. "Far too lonesome." She relished in hearing his arrogant chuckle - she would never admit it but it was music to her ears.

"Lonesome, eh?" he asked. He narrowed his eyes with hunger. He backed her into the bedroom. "Don't tell me you've forgotten what it's like to be with me?"

She tugged at his lapels and looked up at him. "I dare say I have."

"Well, let me remind you then," he growled. Then he caught her lips hungrily.

Chapter Text

 

Belle pursed her lips and stared out the window. Gaston came up behind her. "What's the matter?"

"Papa. He's not been visiting. And I've asked around - he hasn't been seen all week." She twitched her lips. "And he stopped coming three weeks ago. I'm worried something's happened."

He grunted. "I'll stop in on my way to the blacksmith."

"Thank you," she gave in a sigh and he kissed her temple.

He knocked on the front door of Belle's old house. No answer. He strained his ear against the door and knocked again. He didn't hear any movement inside. He stepped back and frowned. He knew the older man wouldn't just up and leave without telling Belle.

So he tried the basement. He knocked on the door. Slight relief came to him when he heard some scuffling. But it was clear as he stood there for a minute more that there was no immediate hurry to answer. He tried the handle and the door opened.

"Maurice?" he called. He stepped in. "Maur-" He met a wild-man's blue eyes and took a step back. He carefully leaned against the door until it closed. Then he glanced around the room as its occupant hadn't quite registered the intruder.

It was far from untidy. In fact, untidy wasn't even the right word to describe it.

Screws, gears, curled scraps of metal, shattered colored glass, and broken pieces of wood were strewn across the entire room. If Maurice wasn't in the process of knocking over his own shelves and handiwork, Gaston would have thought someone had robbed him.

The hunter picked his way through the wreckage. "Maurice-" he tried with a stiff sigh. He managed out of the way when said wild-man flung a music box at his head. He cringed as the box smashed against the floor - all of the other's hard work flying in odd directions.

He looked up in time to see the older man dart for rolls of parchment by his easel. He knew those sheets were laid out with plans of inventions and he knew the man was having a fit he would later regret.

He crossed the room in a hurry and caught the man's wrist.

Maurice sharply turned his head and frowned at him.

"Maurice," Gaston tried forcefully. "Maurice, it's me. Gaston."

He shrugged off the hunter and pushed away from his easel. He muttered incoherently as he kept looking around the room as if looking for more damage he could cause.

Gaston watched him for a moment longer. "What happened?"

"Nothing."

He followed his father-in-law as the older man stopped at the table. "Do not give me 'nothing'. You haven't been seen for weeks, Maurice. Belle's getting worried. And frankly now that I am looking at you, I am quite worried too."

Maurice scoffed. "You? Worried about me? I can scarcely believe it."

Gaston remarkably had patience for this. It seemed to run in the family. Belle was the same way. In fact while having Gilbert, she so (as if he were not in the room, right beside her no less) admitted he still wasn't the man she envisioned she'd marry. That he was too horrid and too burly. That there were times when she truly doubted their marriage was real as he was sooo narcissistic. That on some days she felt frightened to leave him alone with Nathaniel-

Then Gilbert had come into the world and she had apologized for the awful things she had said. But he brushed it off - said it didn't matter, that she was merely uncomfortable with the event, that he knew she didn't mean it, that there would never be the need to apologize.

And because on some level, it all was true in her eyes.

He looked at Maurice. "Well believe it, old bean." He looked down at the tabletop and spotted angrily torn open letters. He picked one up. "What's happened?"

He plucked the papers from the hunter. "None of your business," he said shortly. Then he scrutinized the man. "Don't you have anywhere else to be?"

Gaston picked up another letter in retort. "Not presently. I did tell you Belle was worried about you."

"And you hardly expect me to believe that you do as my daughter says?" He tried to reach for the letter but Gaston held it higher. "Give it to me. It's not for your eyes!"

But Gaston kept scanning the page.

"For goodness sake, you can't even read!"

He sent Maurice a sharp look. "I was a captain in the army. I can read."

The older man scoffed, "Hogwash."

He sighed. There were times Gaston wondered why he married into this family...

He turned the letter over and kept reading. "There's a man in town who-" He raised the letter again as a hand tried to swipe it. "-is also repairing clocks and making music boxes. Some serious competition." He kept reading then he frowned. "Maurice, these are threatening messages. Why haven't you turned them into the constable?"

"Because they're from a foolish kid is all," he tried. "Some little scrawny chap looking to cause trouble. Empty words. Nothing to them."

Gaston gave an unconvinced chuckle as he reread a few lines. "This doesn't sound like nothing to me."

"I have caused enough trouble in town over the years," he said. "I can't afford to have 'Crazy Old Maurice' on my back again. I'll be alright."

"Maurice-"

"You can tell Belle I'm perfectly fine. Just a little cold was all it was."

Gaston looked at him. "You know I can't do that," he said. "I can't lie to her. And not only that, she will see right through it if I do."

The older man sat heavily in his chair and finally acknowledged the desolate room. "I've went and ruined it all, haven't I?" He looked at Gaston then at the floor. He chuckled in pity. "I just got so upset that my work would never be enough. That all my inventions were for nothing. I can't take a little competition, Gaston." He took back the letter. "But I've seen his work... He is quite better than I."

The hunter watched his tired face.

"I dare say I'll be put out of business soon. People will realize that what I have to offer is not nearly as great as he."

Gaston thought of his two cents. "Well, seeing how it's all still here and not halfway down the road, I say you haven't ruined much. Yes, anything that is broken can be fixed- well, mostly," he added.

Maurice gave him an odd look. "I dare say, are you the same son-in-law who so self-centered-ly married my daughter only to gaze longingly at his own reflection shortly after the ceremony?"

"Shocking, isn't it?" Gaston grunted. He heaved up an overturned table. "Come on, now. You don't expect me to do all this work, do you?" he grinned.

"How can you be so sure I can fix all of these?" Maurice asked three hours later when everything was partially put back together and pieces that were far from rescuing were thrown away.

Gaston sat at the end of the table - in a chair of course... but with his boots on the table. "Because you passed on the same determination to your daughter and I've seen her at her best-"

"I am far from determined," he chuckled. "I didn't have the determination in stopping her from marrying you." Then his chuckle ceased as he remembered who he was talking to. He chanced a look at the hunter.

But his face was calm and perhaps even a little amused. "I take no offense, don't worry."

"May I ask why?" he hesitated.

Gaston laughed lightly and shrugged. "I think I'm still in that haze when caring for a two-month-old. Little sleep. Late nights. Early mornings. It would take too much of me to argue with you."

"Ah yes," Maurice realized. "Belle tells me you help out a great deal. More than any man I've heard of in town."

"Well, I would hate her to think she really did marry a conceited jerk who only thinks of himself and his truly perfect jawline that did look exceptionally handsome on his wedding night," he joked as he so fondly rubbed his jaw. "I want to be there for my sons, through it all, no matter what."

"No matter what," Maurice repeated. Then he sat forward. "I'm on your side, Gaston. I know sometimes I forget you married my Belle and I still see you as the same arrogant hunter who so forwardly chased her around town." He chuckled to himself as he remembered her wild stories about the man and his latest venture in courting her. "Of course you've changed a bit - a bit," he emphasized. "And I am.. I dare say I am.. well, we're not quite all the way to proud but-"

"It is I who should be so humbly thanking you."

Maurice grew flustered. "Whatever for?"

"For raising Belle and now that you mentioned it, lacking the determination to stop her from marrying me," he grinned.

The older man grumbled good-naturedly.

The basement door suddenly opened and Belle stopped short at the untidy room. She looked at her father then her husband. "Margaret is watching the boys. Now, what... what happened?"

Maurice took a far too long pause so Gaston answered for him. "Slight break-in. Nothing was taken, thankfully. I'm sorry I've been out for so long. I was helping him put everything back together."

"Oh Papa!" she gasped. "Are you sure everything's all right?"

He nodded then glanced at Gaston from the corner of his eye. "Anything that's broken can be fixed."

She still looked unsure. But time was ticking away - she had told Margaret she'd be back in four minutes. "I have to get back, but I'll be by later tonight. Gaston, I just remembered I need some blue yarn."

Gaston nodded and Maurice hummed, "I'll be looking forward to it, my dear."

She gave a small smile and closed the door behind her. The hunter put his boots back on the table and looked at his father-in-law.

"I thought-" He scrutinized the man. "I thought you said you couldn't lie to her?"

He chuckled. "Elaborate lies that take quite a lot of convincing, no I can't. Short lies, yeah. Those are much easier."

Maurice continued his glare. "A simple robbery is not 'much easier'."

"You want her to know the truth?"

The older man didn't have to think of an answer. He didn't want her to worry about him. Her never did. She had her own life and that was all she should be focused on. "No, not really."

"Robbery," Gaston repeated.

"Robbery," Maurice copied.

They continued to sit in silence until Maurice glanced at the clock. Then he looked at Gaston. "So... yarn?"

"What- oh yes, yarn! Blue yarn. She'd kill me if I got red yarn. 'Gaston, there are more colors than just red and brown'," he mused lightly. He bid Maurice good day and that he'd also be back that night.

He watched the basement door close behind the man he so hoped made his daughter as happy as he and her mother had been.

Chapter Text

 

The house was alive with laughter and carefree children - with the exception of a few grumpy teens. Belle was in the bedroom taking a reprieve from the mayhem his rabble caused. And Gaston was in the washroom tidying up after a month's worth of neglecting his stubble.

He mixed his shaving cream and looked into the mirror. His eyes were at his jaw but he made the mistake of meeting his own gaze. His own distant grey eyes that looked as troubled as the day-

His throat closed.

"Get up! Get up!"

He was roughly yanked to his feet and he stumbled. "Captain-"

A slap stung his face. "Get up!" A meaty hand gripped the back of his neck and geared his head toward the slain soldiers. "Look at what you've done! Look at what you've allowed to happen!"

He shut his eyes.

"This is your fault! These men are dead because of your foolishness!" The man struck him again.

He shook with cowardice.

The voice was fierce with hot venom. " Mothers have lost their sons! Wives have lost their husbands!" The man shoved him down onto the ground at the start of the still bodies. "I warned Captain Jeremie about giving you the title of captain. Young whippersnapper who only thinks of himself-"

He found his voice and his courage and his anger. "This, Captain, was unavoidable!"

"Lies!"

He hardly flinched when his ear was cuffed. "Tell me, where were you when they ambushed us? Were you quite literally holed up in your tent that you couldn't be so damned bothered to help your dying men?" He found his footing and pushed his elder to the ground. "You are just as at fault as I am!"

A soldier kicked the back of his knee and he fell to the earth.

A hand fisted in his hair and dragged him forward, shoving his face to look at his fine work. "This is your doing. Not mine! You will live with these boys' blood on your hands until the day you die!" He pulled him up. "You can forget about sending those letters to your woman back home. You'll never see her again!"

His heart stuttered and his throat ran dry.

"I will make sure you die on this battlefield."

Belle quietly closed the bedroom door behind her. It was too soon for her children to hear she was up from her rest. Then she noticed the washroom door was still open and her husband's shadow was still standing. She stopped short when she noticed he was not present.

His hand was clenched around the shaving blade tightly - so tightly his knuckles were white. She hesitantly stepped into the washroom and closed the door. "Gaston?" she called softly.

His shoulders were tense and he didn't move. His breath was short and tight and labored. He was stuck in a trance.

She pressed her hand to his bloodied one. She tried to pull him back with her soft voice. "Gaston, come back. Come back, my love. Come back home." She repeated herself until he heard her.

His hand suddenly shook as pain finally registered. He dropped the blade in haste. He looked down at his injured hand, wincing when a clean cloth was pressed into his palm. His eyes watched the soft pale hand apply pressure to his wound. Then he trailed up to the arm then to their face.

He met her brown eyes.

She held no judgment, no fear, no pity. Nothing. Just kindness.

A crash followed by a scuffle then shouting sounded from the kitchen. Their peaceful understanding was over. Belle sighed, "That'll be the end of my break." She gently squeezed his shoulder as she left.

Thirty minutes - thirty painfully slow minutes for those who were in trouble - passed before Belle heard a delighted squeal. She looked up in time to see Gaston, hand bandaged and face shaven, lift up little Amelia and press kisses to her soft cheeks.

"Gaston, put her down, she in time-out," she scolded.

"What?" he chuckled in mock-disbelief. "This little girl? My sweet innocent little girl?"

"Yes, put her down," she repeated. She trusted he would do as she said and continued to make supper. Then as an after thought she looked up again, "And don't speak to Jonathan and Gilbert and Cedric. They're also in trouble."

His hearty chuckle continued as he stepped outside.

She watched him through the window. After years and years and years of watching him endure such terrors, she learned to not push him. That he would tell her of his dreams when he was ready.

But for now, seeing his smile and hearing his laugh was enough to tell her he was okay

Chapter Text

 

"Oh, He's darling," Belle beamed. She folded over the blanket her newborn son was wrapped in. "He looks like you, dear."

Gaston grunted. "He's got your nose."

"But he has the shape of your eyes."

He was reclined on a seat beside the bed. His feet were propped up on the bed much to her annoyance. "What're we going to name him?"

She had been thinking of that ever since she was told she had another boy. "Well," she began. Gaston could not object. He wasn't allowed to name their sons. So she felt confident in her choice.. After all, he did like Nathaniel's name. "I was thinking of Constable Charlie's oldest son. You know, the one who died suddenly... back when we were children."

The hunter stopped whittling on a chunk of wood. His tone was full of disbelief and disgust. "You mean you want to name our son after-"

She was quick to interrupt him. "The nice boy who was always so sweet. You would have never thought that he was ill. He was so nice to everyone."

He snorted. "I'm not- we're not naming our child after him."

"Why not?" she frowned. "Gaston, I believe you don't have a particular fancy for those who were polite and different-"

He sent her a glare then continued whittling.

She wanted to groan. Sometimes he was forward and other times he was like this. And it was like pulling teeth. She hoped her two boys wouldn't be the same way. "Gaston, you tell me what it is about that name that bothers you."

"It's not the name. It's the boy. It's who he was." He set down his work. "I'm not- Our son will be nothing like that boy-"

Belle didn't understand. Constable Charlie's oldest son had been a complete sweetheart with her. He had been one of the few boys who didn't pick on her for being different. But she hadn't gone to school and she wasn't sure if Gaston did - he hardly talked about his childhood - so she wasn't sure where his dislike of the boy came from. "What exactly did he do?"

"He intended to woo you. I will not have my son named after the boy who almost took you from me-"

Of course his reason had to something selfish. "Gaston, in the end you married me. Can't whatever happened be put in the past?"

"Gaston never puts anything in the past," he grunted.

"And Gaston has not referred to himself in the third person for a very long time." She glared at him.

"Maybe Gaston hasn't changed," he shot back.

"Gaston." She was unamused.

"What?"

She pursed her lips and tried once more. "His name is going to be-"

"Nope!" He held up a single finger. "Don't even mention that name. We are not going to name him that!"

"Oh, please. That happened years ago!" Their discussion- argument was going nowhere. "Gaston-"

He was as persistent as she was insistent. "I will not have my son, my innocent son be named after him."

She wanted to thwack him. "You're being utterly ridiculous, Gaston. It's just a name! It's not as if he is destined to become him."

He wouldn't budge. "We're not naming him that."

"But he changed after-"

"After I left, he changed," he grunted. "You had your change of heart for him."

She frowned. Never in any way would Gaston or anyone else speak for her. "I always liked him."

"No." And he was firm.

She suddenly thought of a different angle. "Well, the constable has done many great things for us, Gaston-"

"If you must honor the constable, name him after his other son," he let out in a slight groan. He had sat up straight somewhere in their conversation and now he was leaning forward with his elbows braced on his knees.

"The one who joined the war-"

"Yes."

"Why?" she asked blatantly confused.

"Because he was a good soldier who fought bravely for his country. He wasn't the coward like his older brother. He wasn't remembered for sitting on his ass and doing nothing all day-"

"Oh that's polite," she scoffed.

His eyes flashed. "He did! Your sweetheart idiot did nothing! Only got away with it because his father was the constable-"

The newborn gave an indignant wail. His parents had been arguing for far too long.

"Compromise, Belle," he sighed.

She groaned and shook her head. "Fine. Fine. We'll name him... after Constable Charlie's third son."

"He had a third son?"

"Yes. Don't you remember? The nice young lad who rescued me from the river. All of the constable's sons were so polite-"

"Then why didn't you start with that name to begin with?" he huffed. "Could have saved me the trouble of getting worked up!"

She glared again. "Because he was older than me and I don't remember much about him. He was the one who left his studies to support his family."

"The one who lost his arm in the mine explosion."

"Yes, him. He was always so sweet and kind-"

"-and better than that git you wanted in the first place-"

"Gaston," she said tightly.

He grinned at her annoyance with him. "Yes Belle?"

She wanted to be mad at him but he had finally agreed on her choice of a name. She looked down at her son. Her attitude towards Gaston's attitude melted away as she smiled down at the calming baby.

"Hello, little Gilbert."

Chapter Text

 

Seven months full and she should have known this had been a bad idea. Her butt was numb and her legs were falling asleep. She thought she could wait it out until Gaston returned from working in their yard but that wasn't to be.

For minutes, she tried this way and that but it was all no use. She was stuck on the floor.

Why was she on the floor? She couldn't exactly remember anymore. But as the way every mistake started, it seemed like a good idea at the time... until she realized she couldn't get up.

She gave a disgruntled grunt and a shout. "Gaston!"

... he didn't show. She even gave him one minute! One minute! He had the ears of a hunter! What was his excuse going to be when he finally did show up years and years later?

Their child gave an indignant kick as if her shout had woken them from a well-deserved sleep.

She rolled to her side and tried to get up. It didn't work. "Gaston!" She tried again this time with more umph.

This time two minutes! Nothing.

Another attempt and no use. "Gaston!"

At best he was probably ignoring her - they had been sour with one another since that night. She gave a groan and lied on her side in defeat.. Waiting for him didn't seem to be such a bad option anymore. At least the blood was coming back to her bottom.

Pregnant. Fat. Tired. Aggravating to her husband - no wonder he didn't wish to help her. That's all she was to him. After their bitter arguments and hostile nights, she was surprised he still tolerated her. And she him.

Unfortunately, she couldn't stew about it as long as she would have liked for her eyelids grew heavy and she fell asleep... as she was wont to do these days.

The front door clicking shut woke her. She squinted at him as he glanced around for her. "Belle?" he called.

She frowned. She hoped to the heavens he wasn't humoring her. Seriously! She was in plain sight! There was no hiding her enormous size! He could easily see her!

"Gaston," she sighed utterly bored with her unresolved situation.

He turned then registered her lying on the floor. And from the look of it she seemed to be in pain. He rushed to her, cursing himself that he had chosen that day to venture from the house. He knelt and gripped her elbows bringing her to a sitting position. "Are you alright? Baby alright? What's happend?"

"Nothing," she brushed off stiffly. "Just help me up."

But he didn't budge. "Why are you on the floor?"

"Just help me up." She frowned clearly agitated by being left on the floor far longer than she should have. Her fingers curled into his forearms as her answer didn't seem to be enough to convince him.

"Are you sure it isn't the baby?"

"It's going to be you if you don't help me up this minute!" she snapped.

"Alright, alright," he soothed. He pulled her up in one bout of energy, no extra help from her necessary.

She wanted to scream at him for being so strong, for making this all seem so easy! She pushed in frustration his chest.

He didn't take her action as frustration. "What's wrong? Is it the baby? Are you in pain? Belle-"

She scoffed and pushed him aside. "I'm fine. I'm fine."

"Are you sure?" He kept pressing her.

His sudden concern irked her. Why was he so concerned this minute? Was it because it potentially involved his unborn son? She tried with all her might not to think about it. But for pity's sake he couldn't be bothered to come in when she had called.

She had been hurting and exhausted and frustrated and filled with all other negative emotions since he snapped at her a week ago for something that was no secret. Her utter denial that arrogant narcissistic selfish Gaston could ever change and be ever so slightly considered caring and kind. That perhaps she wasn't in a dream.

Or that her own fabricated night terror she drew up of Gaston using her, of him going away into the tavern and not caring of his family... That she and their child were simply a prize. A trophy! A blasted reward for finally getting everything he every bloody wanted! was a complete lie and far from the truth she refused to see.

She finally reached her breaking point.

She roared in both self-absorbed anger and frustration with him.

His hands gripped her wrists and she fought against him. He was saying something... but she couldn't make it out. She kept struggling with his grip and her own hormones and emotions.

"Belle, stop," he tried louder. "Breathe, my love, breathe. Everything's alright."

Since that night, he had been consumed by guilt and regret at the hurt he had caused her. But he had refused to have his anger bottled up any longer.

He had tried to apologize the following evening. He had needed time to think and not lose his temper again. Sage had been very firm with him at not causing her too much stress. He had walked the outskirts of Villeneuve for hours and hours.

He returned home shortly before supper, and he had pulled her aside. He apologized for his selfish actions. That he had no right to snap at her. That he was utterly sorry he caused her pain. And when they had retired to bed, he had told her in the darkness that he loved her. She had given him the same answer she always gave - nothing.

But sorry didn't always make things better. They had been distant and cold and bitter with each other ever since.

And he knew all of this - whatever had happened - had been the last straw.

Her shouts and huffs and puffs turned to cries and sobs. He released her wrists and she thumped his chest. Then she thrust an accusing finger at him. "I called you! I called you for help and all you did was ignore me! I don't get it, Gaston. You hear perfectly well! Why all of a sudden you didn't hear? I could have been dying here!"

He frowned and watched angry tears slip down her cheeks. He had never seen her so exhausted and emotional and conflicted. He would listen and hear her words and her threats and every awful word she threw at him.

The only sure thing he knew was Sage would kill him if she ever found out about this fight.

"- then you come in here looking to be a hero and now I'm- I'm fat and tired all the time and no doubt you find me replussive. I wouldn't blame you-"

He cut off her words. "Never will you be repulsive to me."

"Don't lie to me," she retorted. Her voice was thick with leftover anger. "Don't pretend-"

"Pretend? When have I ever pretended?" he growled. Then he took a breath and tried to keep his temper. "We're never going to get along if we don't try-"

"Then try!"

He let out a harsh sigh. "You must be tired."

"Don't change the subject," she snapped.

"But you are tired, aren't you?" he asked. He had noticed the tightness to the corner of her eyes as she fought to keep them open. "Come."

But she refused. "We're not going to get anything done if I go my way and you yours. It's a been a week and I-"

"Then humor me, Belle," he said without emotion. He took up her hand and nodded toward the bedroom. "Just pretend your tired. We'll talk about this later. When you're not close to collapsing." Because then Sage will really bite my head off.

She glared at him as he led her to the bed, as he shucked his shirt off, and as he lied beside her. She tensed when she realized she had never really been this close to him - when they weren't intimate. She refused to relax.

He sensed her feelings. "Go to sleep."

"Why-"

"Just pretend I make you happy."

She looked at him but his eyes remained shut. She studied his face. He looked troubled still. She turned on her side and felt helpless as he reacted and pulled her back flush against his chest.

She focused on the weight of his arm around her and his warmth seeping into her back. She tried to forget their ongoing fight. She tried to ignore the anxiety that grabbed at her chest. She tried to feel loved. She tried to understand his feelings for her. She tried to pretend he made her happy.

Her eyelids grew heavy and soon exhaustion took her.

When she opened her eyes next, her back was cold and he was gone.

Chapter Text

 

The sun was close to setting and he stood at the door getting ready for a long night away from home. Belle held sleeping Nathie close and watched her husband. He looked very reluctant and perhaps even a little guilty as he strapped his belt on. And if she had learned anything about the man in these past sixteen months, it was Gaston never turned down a good hunt.

But at the moment, he seemed knee-deep in considering turning it down.

She sought to encourage him. "We'll be fine. Go on."

"Are you sure?" he asked. He glanced her way. Something in his grey eyes didn't seem right.

She gave a firm nod. "Yes, we'll be okay."

He let out a bit of a breath and continued to hesitantly get ready. He continued to listen as she spoke

"We need the money, Gaston. My inventions-" She laughed a bit lightly. "-you don't have to humor me, I know they'll never be accepted-"

He shook his head over her words. "They will. They will. But you're right." He looked to their two-month-old in her arms. "We need the money, now with Nathie." He slung his canteen over his shoulder and buckled his holster to his belt. He still looked very reluctant. "Are you sure? I don't have to go-"

She watched him cut himself off.

"No, no, you're right. I'll- I'll go."

Never had she seen him so unsure. He was always thinking of himself first and then her.. whenever he was inclined to remember he had a wife. She hadn't high hopes for him being a doting father to begin with... perhaps her luck was changing. Maybe he was genuinely afraid to leave them. After all, they had both been caring for Nathie since his birth.

This would be the first time he spent time away from his son.

"Gaston," she bit her lip. "Do you not want to go?"

He gave a sigh. "I do but- I don't feel comfortable leaving you two."

She thought for a moment. If she were in his shoes, she wouldn't want to leave willingly either.

"It's just.." he tried to continue. "We've both been taking care of him and what if-"

"Don't with these what-ifs. We'll be fine." She tried to give him an encouraging smile. "There's only one what-if I need to worry about and that's you."

He frowned a bit.

She stepped closer to him and straightened his collar. She tried to remain firm about her words - no weepy sorts now. It wasn't as if she was head-over-heels in love with him. No, she needed him to return.

Nathie had to have his father too. "Coming home safe."

He gave a nod. "I will." He kissed Nathie's head and lingered for a bit, inhaling his son's sweet scent. Then he kissed Belle's temple. "I love you."

It wasn't right yet. She couldn't comply.

He kissed them both again then heaved a breath. He stepped outside and glanced back at her... semi-hoping she'd change her mind.

But she nodded and held faith in him that he'd earn his pay by mid-afternoon.

Chapter Text

 

She smacked the rag on the table and turned to him in a huff. "You live for the glory, Gaston, admit it!"

"No, I don't-" he attempted in a scoff.

"Even after all these years of being a husband and a father, you can really care less about me as I do not worship you or compliment you every single day."

"Belle-" His tone was clipped and his brow was set with a firm frown. "You're being ridiculous!"

"Am I?" she shot back.

He took a swig of ale and moodily sulked in the back of the tavern. Lefou sat across from him, quiet as a mouse, hoping not to disturb his good friend. He knew the other wasn't always the perfect husband to Belle - he was Gaston after all. And as of late, things had not been particularly joyful at home.

"Does it ever occur to you that sometimes I don't want you to accompany me into town because you tend to get the people riled up about your latest kill? Or recite new lyrics that you and Lefou have come up with in your Gaston song?" Belle argued none too quietly.

He was well aware of prying ears listening in at their closed doors, trying to hear their parents' argue in the living room. "Belle," his voice was tight. He had spent his life listening to his mother and father fight. It was not a life he wanted for his children, even if they did not fight often. "Could we not-"

She ignored him - or didn't hear him. "Why can't you change! You said you had changed-" she cried. "God, sometimes I see it but then you heartlessly go back to the way you were! Why-! It's been ten years! Please, I can't take it anymore! Putting up with your arrogant nonsense!"

He couldn't deny that she had struck a nerve . He felt his blood begin to boil. "Nonsense? My nonsense? I provide for this family, Belle. I love you and our children dearly. Don't tell me you can't take it anymore!" He let out a manic chuckle. "You wouldn't last three days with your worthless inventions-"

She slapped him hard. "Don't. At least you would be free to do what you wish with whom you wish."

He rose to his feet. "How dare you! I would never look at another woman the way I do you."

"That's not what I hear from the passing widows-"

"That was during the war! I was unattached and-"

"In need of a good lay?" she challenged darkly.

He glared at her with ferocity. "You know I would never now."

"God forgive you end up alone and celibate," she sneered. She shook her head and passed him on her way to the bedroom. "I wanted something greater than a boorish husband! I told you I was not simple-"

"Nearly ten years I have tried to please you. Just once can you not crucify me for some little misunderstanding?" he growled.

"Misunderstanding?" she repeated coldly. "You punched a man who disliked your song- if that's not narcissism, I don't know what is."

Gaston scoffed loudly. "Belle, had you been anywhere near, you would have heard that he was telling all the men around that you were a widow who would be a really good lay, and that all he'd have to do was get rid of 'those brats hangin' around her'-"

"I don't want to hear your excuses. Your lies! I told you we could never make each other happy. I don't know why I married you-"

The venom he felt in response to her bites disappeared instantly. He felt a tug in his gut and he swallowed. They seldom had fights and in these rare fights, she never voiced outright hatred and anger towards him. He feared this would be the end of their relationship. One miserable fight gone too far. "Belle-" He dared in following her.

She swiveled on her heel and laid a forceful palm to his chest. "No. I need to be alone right now. Go away. Get out of this house. Go to the tavern. I don't care!"

Belle sat on the fountain wall with Thomas on her lap. Gaston was in the tavern and had been in the tavern for all of the day and the previous night. They had fought.. or she had raised her voice and he had tried to argue but then let her explode and listened. She banished him from the house the night before and she assumed he had found himself in the tavern, drinking away his troubles.

But after waking alone the next morning and sending the children off on their annual trip with Maurice, Belle begrudgingly couldn't stay mad at the hunter for long. She scooped up Thomas and the two rode to Villeneuve. Her little boy had come down with a cold and was unable to go. When they arrived in town, Belle's mission to the tavern dwindled and she sighed, sitting on the fountain wall-

She held a book in front of her and pointed to the page. "What does that say, my love?"

Thomas shrugged.

Belle smiled and kissed his cheek. "Come now, my dear. You know these words. Just like we practiced." Then she hummed, "Maybe when we all return home, you can read to Papa."

"Will that make Papa happy again?" he asked.

His mother sighed quietly and held him tighter. "Papa isn't sad, sweetheart. Papa- Don't you worry about him. You leave Papa to me, my darling."

"But-"

"Now, what about this word." Belle didn't want to further lie to her child about Gaston's mood.

Thomas attempted to slide down his mother's lap. "I don't know."

"Sound it out, you can do it."

"Thuh.. a-pull-" He bit his lip. "Fell.. frum.. thuh... thwree.."

Belle beamed, "Very good!" She laughed and Thomas giggled a bit.

But her happiness was short-lived and what happened next took her back to the time the Headmaster and a seamstress had the town against her.

A meaty hand gripped her wrist and yanked her forward. She fell to her hands and knees, throwing an arm back as she attempted to shield Thomas from the attacker. The book fell to the floor where it was picked up by another villager and flung into the fountain.

Belle swung at her assailant who roughly pulled her upright. Her fist did nothing to his muscular gut. She noted with great astonishment that he was larger than Gaston. Fear jumped into her throat and she struggled away.

Thomas let out an abrupt scream as another strong villager pushed him to the ground.

Belle turned and collided her fist with his face, satisfied when the man stumbled backwards. She picked Thomas up and pushed him away. "Papa's in the tavern- Go!"

The little boy nodded and ran. He ran through the many villagers that had gathered to witness bloodshed, entertainment, anything on this boring afternoon. He slipped and scraped his palms on the cobblestone but scrambled into the tavern. It took him three seconds to find Papa sitting in the corner with Uncle Lefou.

"Watch it!" a man gruffed.

He was pushed away by several people but managed to reach him. He collided into his leg.

He caught his son as he started to fall back. His grey eyes suddenly full of worry. "Thomas? Where's Mama?" He glanced around the tavern and saw nothing but men drinking. He took in his raw palms and flushed face - his blood began to boil.

The boy turned his head to the door of the tavern. His bottom lip quivered and his little body shook. He hoisted him up and passed him to Lefou who started. "Stay here," he ordered.

He heard the shouting and cheering as he neared the tavern exit. A snarl set on his lips and he pushed his way through the crowd, throwing several to the ground by their collars when they did not budge.

Then he saw a man larger than himself leading the assault. He felt immensely relieved that Maurice had taken the other children to the festival just that morning, but poor Thomas-

The mere thought of his son witnessing this unacceptable village behavior had rage bubbling beneath the surface. Then he remembered his palms - these scum had the nerve to put their hands on his flesh and blood.

He noticed through the surrounding men. Belle swung but was stopped suddenly by the man's fist to her jaw. Her cries pierced the air and the large man boomed laughter. Then he shoved her to the cobblestone street.

And Gaston saw red.

"Teaching children to read- This town has no time for folk like you! Go back to the slums where you belong!"

Gaston, not older than fourteen, watched silently from behind the tavern's walls. He watched his father berate his mother in the middle of town. He winced as his father's angry hand came down on her porcelain skin. Her cry filled his ears and she stumbled to the ground.

Villagers stopped and gathered… then they pointed and laughed.

He stepped from the shadows. He had full intention to stop his father once and for all. He had been a coward for far too long. He should have never let his mother go through this-

But she had been the one to send him off that morning. Her grey eyes were as light and happy as ever. Now, as he stalked toward his burly father, he realized she must have known that this final fuze was about to blow. And she did not want her only child to witness her death.

His father's intimidating form was just in his reach when a strong hand clapped his shoulder, stopping him in his tracks. He turned to see the kind man that his mother had been seeing in the market when Father spent nights drinking and mornings passed out. The kind man who loved his mother beyond measure.

"Monsieur Jonathan-"

"Stay back," he ordered in a rough growl. "Let me handle this." His mouth was set in a pitied line. "You're not supposed to be here. If your ma sees you- Gaston, you must go."

"But-"

"Don't argue," he snapped. "Do what you set out to do this morning. Go. Enlist in the army. Fight for your country-"

He shook his head. "But Ma-"

The man gripped his shoulder tightly, nearly painful. "Fight for those who cannot defend themselves. For your ma."

Gaston felt his mother's ring in his pocket and gave a faint nod. He stood straighter. "Yes, sir."

"Teaching children to read-" The booming voice of his father rang through the town. "Should have beat you into next year for teaching our son! Man has no business readin'!"

He watched the man head into the square. He watched his shoulders set firmly. Then he watched his father's face transform from anger to cowardly terror when the man shoved him aside.

He felt himself back away from the scene. He didn't witness any more.

But on his journey, he heard mutters for miles and miles. The man had nearly beat his father to death and his mother's face had been badly bruised and bloodied. Then his father had gone to the tavern and drank until he could no more then stumbled out eventually getting trampled by a wild stallion as he walked to nowhere.

From that day, Gaston swore he would never tolerate any man who treated a woman as such.

Gaston's hands gripped the man's collar and flung him aside. His eyes were dark and his mouth was set in a snarl.

The large man recovered and delivered a kick to Gaston's gut. His lip curled in cruel satisfaction as Gaston landed hard on the cobblestone. He watched his prey struggle for breath again. He had been in Villeneuve for the past few months and this was the first time he had seen such a man who didn't know his place.

Belle regained her feet as the attacker advanced on her husband. Though he was still an avid hunter, no doubt lack of sleep had worn on him. She gathered her courage and-

"Belle," he coughed from his weakened state. "No... Belle, please."

She was about to ignore him but then she stopped as the larger man stepped on his chest. The guilt from shouting at him the night before crawled up her spine. Had she not yelled at him and told him to get out they all wouldn't be here.

He gave a boom of laughter. "So you're the famed Gaston?" he gleamed. He stepped further, grinning as the man beneath his boot struggled. He turned to Belle and he stepped off of Gaston. "And you must be his little wife."

Gaston found his strength at the man's insult. He stood a bit breathless but collided his fist with the stranger's nose. He growled in triumph as he rendered the man dazed. Then as quick as he was on the battlefield nearly twenty-five years ago, he twisted the man into a headlock. His arms flexed - he was truly considering choking the life out of his wife's attacker.

"Gaston!"

He was nearly enveloped in rage - he barely heard her. But he couldn't bring himself to let go of the gasping coward. The coward who dared to harm his love and his son. He lost control as he remembered their injuries.

The man's eyes bulged as he felt his airway close. He clawed at Gaston's arm but the hunter didn't seem to notice.

Belle cried again and Gaston heard the break in her voice.

He let the man go and turned in time to catch the cutlass aimed for his back. The blade sliced his hand, blood dripped onto the streets. He gripped the blade and flung it aside, colliding his fist into the assailant's eye as he was jerked forward.

"Break it up! Break it up!" the constable shouted. He managed his way through the crowd of riled villagers. "The lot of you! Go home! There's nothing to see here!" He stalked to the quarrelling men and shoved them apart.

Belle caught Gaston's bicep and held him tightly. Her fingers dug into his skin as she desperately needed to feel that he was still alive and standing. She pulled him further away from the hungry and vengeful men.

"Can we discuss this civilly or shall a night in the cells calm you lot down?" he grunted.

Gaston narrowed his eyes at the men across the way but didn't say anything. He continued to keep quiet as Belle tore off a piece of her skirts and bound his bleeding hand tightly. Rage continued to boil beneath the surface as his eyes caught her swollen wrist. But he would remain civil. He couldn't land himself in jail and leave Belle alone for one and possibly two nights. Not with this lot still bloodthirsty.

The constable regained order. "Now, what happened? This town don't need anyone getting into fights. It's bad enough the youngsters of this town have wild ideas about battles and robbery."

Neither side spoke.

"What? Cat got your tongues now?"

Apparently so.

The constable grew impatient. "Don't let this happen again. It happens both of you are spending a night in the cells."

The burly man who led the fight smirked and winked at Belle.

To hell with being civil.

She tried to catch his shoulder but it was too late. Gaston crossed the space and punched the man squarely between the eyes and he fell away, out cold.

She watched helpless as the constable and his men restrained him and led him to the cells. She had no choice but to follow as they let her husband to the isolated dungeon near the bakery.

"Thought he wasn't serious, did ya?" one of the officers sneered. He banged on the iron bars before he left.

She winced. Then she stopped before the gate. He already sat against the brick wall and though he was in the shade, she could see bruises forming on his face. She joined him on the ground.

"Are you going to leave me in here for the night?" he asked quietly. He didn't look at her.

"I can believe they threw you in here," was all she replied. "I suppose you've finally lost your luster here. It seems that's what you get when we live out in the country. Far away, and away from these people who don't help with your overwhelming ego-"

"Just answer my question," he growled. He had to stop her further damage to his ego.

She pursed her lips and sighed. "I should."

"You're still mad at me?"

She rested her head on the bars that separated them. "No, I'm not." She tried to offer a smile of peace. "I should have listened to you last night. I'm sorry I didn't. And now..." She touched her tender wrist. "You were protecting your family and you shouldn't be punished for that."

He sighed. "Your words.. stung. Your slap stung," he added as an afterthought. "I had no right to take a jab at your inventions. Forgive me?"

"Of course," she assured. "Only if you forgive me for threatening the end of our marriage."

To their surprise, a chuckle rumbled his chest. "I will." His fingers reached through and gently brushed her swollen wrist. "Get to the physician-"

"Are you okay?" she asked suddenly.

Grey eyes met brown. "A good man who loves his family beyond anything in this world never stands for any harm done to them. Threats, actions- he fights and he conquers."

She wanted to hear him, to take his words in... but these words were just... were too much unlike Gaston. She couldn't help herself. "Where did you pick that up?"

He sent her a smirk. "What? Did that sound unbelievable?"

"A bit," she smiled fondly.

He chuckled again then quieted as he remembered, "The man who wasn't my father. He told me those words just before I left to enlist, just before he nearly beat my father to death in the square."

"He's the one who lived with your mother after your father died," she realized.

"Yes."' He gave a single nod. "He's a good man."

"So are you."

He looked at her. "Maybe one day I can believe you, but not right now." He stretched out in the cramped area. "Lefou has Thomas-"

She fished around in her bag. "I think I have enough on hand to spring you out of here."

"Then we can get away from this town and remember why we left it in the first place," he added.

She raised an eyebrow. "We left it because we kept having kids and couldn't fit in that small house."

"Yes, yes, that too," he smiled.

"But away from the judgment and words, I know." She stood and dusted herself off. "I'll be back."

"The physician, Belle," he called after her. He chuckled to himself as she waved away his words.

Chapter Text

 

A pitiful wail woke Belle and Gaston in the dead of night.

She lit the oil lamp beside their bed and went to Thomas' room. Gaston tossed on a shirt and trousers and set about checking the house, seeing if anything was amiss. With all seemingly untouched, he returned to Belle.

She had the back of her hand pressed to her son's forehead. In the flickering light, he could see his little boy's face was very flushed. His cough was hoarse.

Belle looked to her husband. "This isn't what we thought."

He could hear the hitch in her voice.

As she turned back to Thomas and tried to soothe his wail to a hush, Gaston didn't waste any time. He headed into the living room and shrugged on his jacket and hastily put on his boots. He tied his hair back and put his hat on.

"It's a two hour ride," he heard her worry quietly. He saw her figure in the faint firelight. "But only if you're fast. Wh-what if you don't-"

"Don't," he growled sharply. "I'll make it. He'll be fine."

She tried to have faith as he kissed her cheek. "Be safe," she gave in reply.

He nodded firmly. "Go to him. I'll be back."

Thomas was struggling to breathe by the time the front door slammed shut. Her hope rose a bit and she caressed her son's damp forehead. "It's alright, my love. It's going to be alright. Papa's made it home. You'll be better soon."

The fearful look in the trembling child's eyes faded a bit and Belle could see happiness for a brief moment.

Her heart clenched to see her little boy in so much pain. "It's going to be alright, my baby. Shh."

She tried to will away her anxiety that she was sure was written clearly on her face as the physician bustled in. She met her husband's eyes as he followed.

"What are the symptoms?" the old doctor asked.

Her throat felt dry as she spoke. "We thought it was a regular cold. Then just a few hours ago he developed this fever and now he's been having a hard time breathing." She watched worriedly as the physician bent over her son with his medical equipment.

He threw a glance her way. "I'm sorry, Madam, but I must work without your hovering. Nothing personal. Just parents tend to get in the way."

Gaston took a breath and gently led his wife from their son's room. "Come. He'll be fine."

She couldn't tear her eyes from Thomas as he pulled her. "No," she finally spoke just as she passed the threshold. "No. I-I will stay here."

He studied her form, noting the way her body trembled a bit. He didn't argue. But he remained near as she nervously bit at her nails. He wanted to offer his support but knew she'd push him away.

Both stood vigilant in the hour that passed. Belle had eventually accepted his touch and had leaned into him as they watched the doctor tend to Thomas. The doctor had moved away to his bag when it happened.

And Gaston swore he had never been so scared. The scene and her scream would haunt him for months to come.

Their three-year-old's chest stopped rising.

Her scream was hoarse and raw and his hand at her waist tightened in an instant. He was sure she would have bruises from his grip, but she did not notice. She did not care. She solely cared about rushing to their son and doing everything she could in bringing him back. In making him breathe again.

She fought at him to get away but he wouldn't budge. He wrapped his arms around her - preventing her from lunging out of his grip and into the room. She clawed at his arms but he would not stand down. He had never before held her so tightly.

But her strength mirrored his. He knew he could not hurt her.

Her cries ripped at his core. He could feel her screams in his soul, her pain in his heart, her fear in his own. He pressed his nose into her hair more out of comfort for himself than her.

He knew he could not comfort her. He could not soothe her.

Not with the physician hovering over their lifeless child, trying to bring him back into this world.

His throat tightened then-

Her legs gave out and she crumpled. He lowered her to the floor and enveloped her in his embrace as tightly as he could. Tears stung the backs of his eyes as he caught a glimpse of her tear-streaked cheeks.

Then she stopped struggling to get away and clung to him.

Her body was shaking - uncontrollably. "I can't- my baby- I can't lose him," she sobbed into his chest. "Gaston-"

"I know," he said in the most put-together voice he could muster. "We'll have to have faith, my love." He kissed her head and she cried into him as they waited.

This was the second liftetime of agony Gaston had endured.

The first-

He had been eleven. And he had woke one morning to find the man who was not his father trying to revive his mother after his awful father nearly killed her.

He feared he had cursed his family with the same tragic life his mother had and her love had. He would never forgive himself if-

A hoarse sound. Then a rusty sputter.

Belle watched, still trembling in his arms. Thomas' lungs struggled hard but finally they let him breathe again.

She let out a relieved cry and Gaston welcomed the sound. He kissed her head over and over until he felt alright. He held her for several minutes more, waiting for Thomas to be okay.

The physician finally stepped back and Belle wasted no time in freeing herself from her husband's grip. She knelt beside Thomas' bed, held his hand, and ran her thumb softly over his forehead. Gaston stepped in slowly and noted his son's face was no longer flushed.

"Will he be alright?" he asked.

The doctor gave a nod that they speak elsewhere. He gathered up his items and left the room. Gaston followed.

"He is very lucky," he admitted quietly at the end of the hall. "Most children to not survive through the night."

Gaston fought to keep his face neutral. To think they could have been the unlucky parents and buried their- He cleared his throat. "Will he continue to live?"

He nodded. "His fever has broken. His lungs have significantly cleared. I reckon you and your wife have survived this disease once in your life." He waved off Gaston's concerned look at that. "Signs of it spreading to either of you would have shown up before I arrived."

"We have other children," he suddenly said. "They're not here now but-"

"Air out the room, thoroughly wash the sheets, should be fine," he replied.

"Should?" Gaston couldn't help but repeat.

"Burning is your last resort. It has been studied that the disease cannot live on its own." He gave Gaston a firm nod. "It's highly unlikely your children will get sick."

A weight was lifted. "Yes, sir. Thank you, sir." He walked the doctor out and stood on the steps of the house. Then he remembered.

"No. Keep it," the doctor shook his head at the payment Gaston offered. "A child surviving this illness is payment enough."

Gaston gave a short nod, not trusting his words.

"Good day, sir," he bid.

He watched the physician ride away back to Villeneuve. He looked to the east - the sun was rising.

He closed the door behind him and kicked off his boots. Exhaustion set on his shoulders and he wiped his face. He returned to the room.

"Gaston," she breathed tiredly. Her eyes were red and puffy from her crying.

Kneeling beside the bed, his hand ghosted over Thomas' peaceful sleeping face, his fingers stopping just over his hair.

Then his hand shook and he suddenly lost his composure.

He barely felt Belle's hands knead his shoulders as he cried.

Chapter Text

 

"Julia, where is Papa?" Belle asked, bringing in the laundry from the well. Gaston was supposed to be mending the roof and as Belle walked up to the house, she could very well see it had not been mended.

The girl of age seven, sitting on the porch, shrugged wordlessly and returned to reading her book.

Belle huffed and marched up the steps - as well as a woman eight months full with child while holding a basket of washed clothes could. She opened the door. "Gaston-"

A ball of spit landed just above the designated container on the fireplace. The two men of the house - because eleven-year-old Nathaniel considered himself to be a man - were hooting and hollering in this newfound game of jest that had no doubt started as a bet.

Belle didn't bother in finishing her sentence. Instead, she slammed the door shut.

Her husband in red and her son dressed in his work clothes stopped laughing.

"Gaston, I told you the roof needed mending," she sternly reminded him. "I trusted you to work while I was gone. Now I come back to find the both of you-" She sighed and waved her hand, letting that finish her sentence. She crossed the room and set the basket on the table in the kitchen.

"It was a bet," six-year-old Thomas confirmed as he passed down the hall.

Still not a word between the two men had been uttered.

She traded her market shawl for her work apron. "I want this room to be spotless when I return."

Gaston stepped forward, a frown of concern on his face. "Where are you off to?" he asked, catching her wrist as she headed for the door.

"I'm going to mend the roof. Something you clearly should have done today-"

"No!" he said quickly - almost too quickly. Then he tried again. "No, my love. I'll do it. I'll do it." He had offered first then repeated it to show he really meant it. "Sit. I'll not have you risk a fall and deliver my son so early-"

Belle's mouth twitched and she tried to give him a scolding look. "It could be another girl."

He scoffed and let out a hearty laugh. "My love, my family does not produce two girls in a row."

"You disapprove of our daughters then?" she teased, raising an eyebrow.

In the background, Nathaniel slowly slid farther from the fireplace and toward the back room. His parents were going to start kissing and he did not want to see that.

Gaston looked up from their conversation and cleared his throat, stopping Nathaniel in his tracks. He tossed the boy a rag and smirked when his eldest sulked to the mantle and began cleaning.

"Gaston," Belle scolded, seeing his look.

His attention turned to her again. "I do not disapprove of our daughters, my love. They are as beautiful as their mother."

A soft smile graced Belle's lips. "But you do want strapping young boys," she continued.

He nodded his head toward Nathaniel - who was sopping up the biggest lump of spit with a disgusted expression on his face - and draped his arm across her shoulders, grinning. "But I do want strapping boys... like me."

Belle rested her head against the crook of his neck and watched their son. She hummed. "Imagine that."

"Papa?" a small voice from the hallway called timidly.

Gaston and Belle looked to the source - a little girl of about three rubbing her eyes sleepily with one hand while the other gripped the plush teddy bear Maurice got for her during the festival one year. The two exchanged looks and Gaston left his wife's side.

He knelt before his daughter. "What is it, my little Agatha?" he asked softly.

"I had a bad dream again," she whimpered.

"A bad dream?" Gaston questioned in surprise - as one would change their voice for a child. "Was it the same one as last time?"

She nodded.

Gaston hummed in thought. "You don't want to go back to bed?"

She shook her head fervently. "No, Papa."

"Hm," he replied. He glanced over his shoulder at Belle then back at Agatha. "How would you like to help me mend the roof? Huh? Chase away those bad dreams. Those monsters will see you're so strong and they'll never bother you again."

Belle watched Agatha's head raise at that. She never knew Gaston could have a soft but playful side, reserved only for their two daughters - and hopefully three.

"Really?"

Gaston grinned. "Come on." He scooped her up and headed for the front door, stopping only to free Nathaniel from his- their punishment.

Belle reached forward to grasp Agatha's teddy bear and gently said, "Why don't we keep Jacques inside, hm?" She knew he'd get dirty and-

"No Mama," Agatha frowned, holding onto Jacques tighter.

Gaston looked to Belle, his grin wide. "No Mama," he winked. He exited the house and spotted Julia sitting and reading. "Jules, want to help me mend the roof?"

The girl snapped her book shut. "But I'm not actually going to help you, am I? I'm just going to sit and watch." She stood defiant, literally. "And don't call me Jules." She turned and marched inside.

Gaston sent Belle a pointed look. "She's ever so fierce, isn't she."

She exhaled slowly and worried her bottom lip at her daughter's attitude.

He came to stand a few steps below her on the porch. He tugged her close, to the edge of her step, to where her eyes were level with his. "I love you," he said quietly.

A soft smile lit her tired face and it grew as his arms brought her closer to him. "I love you too."

"Don't worry about her," he said referring to Julia. "She's very smart and outspoken and defiant and-"

"Just like me," Belle supplied.

Gaston pressed a kiss to her temple. "Yes, well, your words not mine. Now, go inside and rest. You've done far too much today."

She pulled back and narrowed her eyes suspiciously at him. "Gaston, that roof better be mended by the time I get up."

He grinned. "It will, my darling." He took a step back and bent and pressed a kiss to their unborn child. "And you, my love, don't be quite as active as you have been. Your mama needs her rest."

"When did you turn into such a sap?" she asked fondly when he stood straight again.

He tugged her close again. "When I married you."

Chapter Text

 

"Gaston, I don't see the big deal about it," Lefou started over a nice mug of ale in the dining room - much to Gaston's annoyance. That ale was reserved for him! Why did Belle have to give him a mug too? "It's just a book."

The man in red folded his arms over his chest and scrutinized his good friend. "It's just a book?" he repeated with a slight growl. "Lefou, it's not just a book."

Belle set down the pie she had just made in front of them. "Would you men like a slice?" she asked sweetly.

Gaston sent her a glare and she gave a teasing grin. He knew she knew he took this book matter very seriously and he didn't want any interruptions. Especially interruptions of her sweet-smelling apple pie. He narrowed his eyes.

But she wasn't fazed. "Lefou, would you like a slice?" she asked again.

"Oh uh-"

"Lefou, do not lose sight of what we're discussing," he grunted as he watched the other's eyes take in the delicious pie.

"I'm not," he frowned. "Yes, Belle, I'll have a piece."

Her smile widened and Gaston glared hard at her. "Dear, would you like some?" she asked yet again.

"No, I would not," he ground out a bit. "Belle-"

She brushed him off. "I'll only be a moment," she hummed.

He watched her slowly - agonizingly slowly, oh she was doing this on purpose - serve the piece of pie. Then he watched Lefou's eyes go wider at the sight of his slice. He gave a grunt of annoyance. "Lefou, do try to listen-"

"Gastnn, I dn't seevhut the bggdeal is," he repeated this time with a mouthful of pie. "Mhmm, Belle thsthis delithuss."

She smiled and took a seat at the table. "Oh thank you."

Gaston still glared. He looked at Lefou. "The big deal is that this book is... is..."

"Letting their imagination grow?" Belle sufficed.

Lefou pointed to her and nodded as if she had a point.

"Giving them night terrors," Gaston corrected. "Lefou-"

"Oh come now, I don't think it's that bad," he scoffed.

But before he could retort what he really thought of it all, he looked to the insistent tug at his waistcoat.

Julia clutched her doll tightly and Gilbert's hand. Nathaniel stood behind the two, and Gilbert held out the book- the book, the very book Gaston had been growling to Lefou about. "Papa... can you read to us?"

Despite the frustration with an unthinking Lefou and a pie-making wife, he smiled. "Of course, I'll be there in a bit." He watched them scamper off to their room. Then his glare returned and he narrowed his eyes at the other two. "This discussion is not over."

Lefou made a noise though Gaston was pretty sure it was the delicious pie talking.

He emphasized his look to Belle.

She stood from the table and - with her sweet smile again - passed behind him. Her hand brushed the back of his neck affectionately as she walked by. "Of course, my darling. I'll see Lefou off."

He narrowed his eyes again.

"Go read to our children," she said fondly.

And he did. For an hour - their usual bedtime ritual. And all would have been perfectly well, perfectly fine! had Lefou had the decency to not slam the front door behind him. Gaston watched his sons' and daughter's faces change as they took in the abrupt scary sound in the quiet house... After all, the creature in the book just closed the door of a house very much like theirs.

He closed the book. "I think that's enough for tonight," he spoke.

All three looked at him like they didn't want him to go. "J-just a bit more, Papa," Nathaniel piped up.

He chuckled some and shook his head. "No, it's already past your bedtime."

Gilbert clutched the blankets in his fists tightly. "P-Papa..?" he asked in a shaky voice. "C-can y-you...?"

Gaston tried not to sigh audibly. "Of course," he nodded. He went to their wardrobe and opened it, pretended to really look inside of it, then closed it firmly. Then he knelt beside their beds and did so again. He stood from the floor. "Nothing at all, my love. There are no monsters here."

"A-are you sure?" Gilbert asked and Julia nodded, her eyes big and fearful.

He pressed a kiss to Julia and then Gilbert's forehead. "Quite."

But the boy wasn't finished. He caught his papa's face and looked deeply into his eyes. "You'll never be one of those monsters, will you Papa?"

The question caught him off-guard but he recovered quickly. He kissed his son's hands and smiled softly. "Never. Now go to sleep."

"P-Papa...?" Nathaniel asked - and if you brought it up to him years later, he would firmly deny he did no such thing. "Can you stay here for a bit?"

Gaston smiled softly and perched himself on the end of Julia's bed. "I'll be right here," he assured caringly.

Two full hours he sat because Gilbert had trouble falling asleep. Finally, he returned to his own room. He closed the bedroom door and glared at Belle's amused look from behind her own book.

"Everything alright?" she asked semi-seriously.

His lip twitched as he thought of his answer. Then he decided, "I'm gonna kill Lefou."

Chapter Text

 

Gaston couldn't help but beam at his wife - his wife who loved him very much in return, mind you - as she descended the steps to him. He offered her his hand, his heart speeding up a bit as she accepted it with a soft smile of her own. Nathaniel who was perched on her hip reached out for his papa the moment he spotted him.

Belle could clearly see from his overenthusiastic grin that he was very, very happy with their hand-holding. And, if she was honest with herself, seeing their hands together had butterflies fluttering in her stomach. She never thought she would fall in love with the famed arrogant Gaston.

But here she was - smitten with him.

"The market?" he asked.

"Yes."

He squeezed her hand and his grin widened - if that was even possible. "You have a few things to buy or are we just out for a stroll?"

She smiled and looked up at him. She thought a bit to be playful. "We're just out for a stroll."

He ducked his head and caught her lips. She smiled into their kiss. "Perfect," he said deeply.

Their walk was calm and comfortable and Nathie enjoyed pointing out birds and colors. Belle smiled at her son and his eagerness to learn. Gaston felt the same and introduced the old oak tree, the wig-maker's cart, and the school.

But Nathie shied away from the glaring man who stood on the steps of the schoolhouse. Gaston gave the Headmaster a courteous nod even though he did not in the slightest mean it.

The Headmaster glowered at the passing family, grumbling under his breath. Something about stupid kids. Something Gaston and Belle didn't particularly wish to hear. It seemed both had had enough trouble with the man. Gaston ignored him and his words. His son playing with his forming scruff distracted him easily enough.

Soon, Villeneuve was behind them and Gaston stopped in the shade of a single tree. He set Nathie on the ground, grinning when the boy picked himself up and tried to scamper off. He scooped him up and held him high for a second before bringing him down to kiss his cheeks.

Belle smiled lovingly at Nathie's squeal of happiness. She berated herself for ever believing Gaston would be just like his own father. It warmed her heart to see him so besotted with their little boy. She could only hope he'd pass on the same love to their next child.

She sat on the grass and watched her two men. She glanced back to the town - the single-minded town that, if she really thought about it, didn't accept either of them. She looked to Gaston again and he joined her on the ground - Nathaniel had found an interesting fallen branch near them and was content to playing with it. Gaston leaned against the tree and softly tugged her close. He grinned as her side firmly pressed against his.

He couldn't contain his emotions. He kissed her temple, and at the turn of her head, she caught his lips.

"I love you," he said with every fiber of his being.

Her heart sped up at his voice. She smiled tenderly and kissed him once more. "I love you too."

His grin turned a bit soft then, and she found his easy smile endearing. But his heart twisted a bit as he watched conflict settle on her face. It was a bit of agony but he waited for her to speak.

"Back before..." She briefly stopped herself. Her chest tightened as she found it hurt to acknowledge there was such a time where she didn't love her husband. "Before I married you, you said the Headmaster never liked you." She looked at him. "Why?"

Relieved to know her conflict wasn't about their marriage - he pleaded to the heavens she would never fall out of love with him - but then not too relieved to hear of her question. He grew tense as their sweet moment was now spoiled. But he tried to brush it off. "Isn't it obvious?" he asked in a very Gaston-like manner instead.

She chuckled to herself. "No, I'm afraid it isn't."

Of course he didn't blame her - he would never blame her, but it was his past he didn't wish for her to hear. But that is what loving couples did, wasn't it? Open up and share old wounds?

He gave a sigh and kept his eyes on his son. He tried not to think too much about it all. Tried not to understand - to think how he did - how a man could raise his hand to his own family. "I knew how to read."

She noted his hand was a bit stiff as he took up hers and kissed her knuckle. She bit her lip, knowing whatever he was about to say was a bitter part of his life.

"I knew how to read and I knew he really didn't. I called out his mistakes usually, in front of everyone," he chuckled dryly. "That's why he didn't like me."

She didn't speak and he continued. He revealed somewhat regretfully, "He told my father. Didn't go to school for a week."

She frowned a bit. "Your father.. kept you at home?"

His upper lip twitched and it hurt her to see him conceal his rage. "No." He looked down at their joined hands. "Beat me so bad I didn't want to go anywhere."

"Gaston-" her voice went soft with shock.

He shook his head, shrugging off his bad memories. "It doesn't matter now," he said. He chuckled to himself as he remembered the week he returned to class. "The headmaster thought I'd changed after that. I didn't."

She didn't push him but smiled softly at his humor. "Of course you didn't."

He changed the subject. He gently ran his finger over her wedding band. His voice dipped with emotion. "I'm so happy you agreed to marry me."

Her stomach filled with butterflies again. "I'm so happy you were insistent."

"Is that the only thing you love about me?" he asked cheekily.

She laughed. "No," she said. "I love that you're a good father to Nathie. I love that you're strong and handsome. I love that you're protective..." Her cheeks flamed as she prepared her next words. "And I love that you're mine."

He growled a bit and tugged her closer, earning a surprised squeal. "I love you," he declared huskily as she straddled his lap.

"I love you too," she smiled, wrapping her arms around his neck.

Their kiss was as passionate as their marriage would become.

Chapter Text

 

Belle softly petted her daughter's hair as the little girl stood on her toes at her side. She knew Agatha was impatient and curious as to why she and the others were roused in the morning and taken to the outskirts of Villeneuve. Why they had to wait outside of town while Papa bought a bouquet of flowers. Why Papa stood before a curved stone sitting in the ground.

"Mama?" she tugged on her mother's skirts.

"Shh, my love. We must be quiet for Papa."

Gaston stood before his mother's headstone. He turned the bouquet anxiously in his hand. It had been a long while since he last visited her. Back when he had just married Belle. He should have visited her more often. It was the only guilt that gnawed at his heart as he stood there... eighteen years later.

He didn't speak. He had no excuses for being so late.

Last time he really saw her he was fourteen and off to war. When he had returned, she had been gone for a year.

He stood in front of her grave. His lips held a bittersweet smile and he turned the gold band around his ring finger nervously. "I married her, Mum," he said quietly. He wiped at his eyes. "You- you would've liked her. She would've liked you."

"I'm sorry-" His voice sounded parched. He cleared his throat. "I'm sorry I never stood up for you when Pa.. when Pa did what he did." He knelt in front of the headstone. "I uh-" He sniffed and glanced over his shoulder at his family. He turned back to her. "I'm sorry your love couldn't find you sooner. I quite liked him. He treated you well. I still haven't visited him in town. Belle says I must but I cannot."

He sniffed again and ran a hand over his face. This was harder than he thought.

"Jon- She decided to name our son Jonathan after him. After I told her who he was to you... what he did for you.

"I.. I have a little girl. Her- I named her after you." He chuckled quietly. "Perhaps you've seen her. Oh, she's just like you, Mum. Smart, witty, kind, compassionate. Selfless."

A weak smile curved his lips as he recalled everything his mother did for him. "You made sure I was protected from Pa's rage. You.. gave me a good childhood when he gone and drunk. Sending me away that day... You felt I was more important than yourself."

He tried a light chuckled even as a tear fell. "I never understood your actions that day. I didn't know how you could wish to face him alone. But now.. I understand." He glanced at his family who politely stood away. "I never knew my heart could stretch for others. But then I married Belle and she gave me eight beautiful children I wouldn't trade for the world... and given the situation, I'd die for them."

He swallowed and looked back at her. "I know you are content to be with Amelia. I hope you give her my love. And I hope you continue to love your grandchildren." He set the flowers on the ground and fondly put his hand on the headstone. "I love you, Mum."

He shook as Belle's hand rested on his shoulder. He looked up at her with glistening eyes.

She smiled softly. "Agatha wants to see her grandmother."

He cleared his throat and wiped at his eyes. He nodded after a moment.

Agatha stepped forward, her bottom lip protruded at the sight of her father's emotions.

"I'm alright, my love," he chuckled. He brought her closer and tapped the headstone. "What does this say, my Atha?"

"Agatha," she recited. Then she frowned, "Papa?"

"Remember how Mama sings of her mother?" He watched her nod. "This here, is my mother."

Agatha leaned back against him and stared at the headstone.

Gaston continued, "I loved her so very much, I named you after her." He watched her for a nod or anything at all. "I wish you got to meet her, my Atha."

The eight-year-old girl gave another nod. Then she pointed to the smaller headstone. "Who's this for?" She knelt down and read the name on the stone. "Amelia...? Like our Amelia?"

He took a breath. He had hoped not to encounter this conversation until years later. "Yes, my darling." He cleared his throat. "When I was about your age... My mama was supposed to have a little girl," he began, wading into uncharted territory. He wasn't exactly sure how to explain the matter to someone so young.. hence, he'd rather have this conversation years from now. He cleared his throat and found he was at a loss for words. "... She..." He looked to Belle for help.

She carded her fingers through her daughter's hair. "Some things in this world are not meant to be, my love. But her little girl is happy now, to be reunited with her mother."

Agatha nodded slowly and Gaston hoped this was all she observed... but these children were half of Belle. And half of Belle meant they were twice as fast as far as brains were concerned as he. "And her name was Amelia?" She looked up at her Papa and he nodded. She pursed her lips so much like her mother.

He cast Belle a nervous glance and dared, "My Atha, what're you thinking of?"

Her curious and young brown eyes were so naïve but so observant. "Was what happened like what almost happened to Amelia? Our Amelia?" she asked.

The hunter felt his throat close. He couldn't look at her or his wife. To relive those events... the same events that occurred when Cedric was born. He let out a shaky breath and tried his very best not to break. Though his Amelia was well over a year, it still hurt to remember Belle - the love of his life - so pale, barely breathing, and very near death-

"Yes, my love," she thankfully answered for him. She squeezed Agatha's shoulders and guided her in the direction of the others. "Now go to your brothers and sisters. I'll be there in a bit."

Waiting until Agatha was halfway down the path, she knelt beside her husband and wrapped her arms around his broad shoulders. She brought him close and held him tightly. She felt his frame tremble. "Oh, my darling," she sighed into him. "I am so dreadfully sorry you had to remember-"

He shook his head, stopping her words. He clung to her. "You're here," he said, his voice thick with emotion. "That's all that matters."

She pulled back a bit. Her hands cradled his tear-stained face. "I love you," she said with all her heart. With her thumb, she brushed away his tears. His troubled grey eyes tugged at her heart and she tried not to convey her pity. He always despised that.

He nodded, not trusting his voice.

She gave him a comforting kiss. "I wish I could have met her," she said absentmindedly.

He looked at her and raised an eyebrow. "We've had eighteen years to discuss this. Why bring it up now?"

"Don't give me that look," she scolded playfully. She sat down on the grass and he joined her. She lifted her hand and ran her fingers carefully through his hair - carefully, the man didn't like his perfect hair to be messed up so early in the day. "I wish I could have told her that she did a good job raising her son."

He turned away. "Stop. You're making me blush."

She laughed. "Gaston? Blushing? I've never heard the likes!" she teased.

"Shut it," he griped good-naturedly.

Her giggle continued and she rested her head on his shoulder. "But you are a good man, Gaston... eventually."

"Hey!" he protested.

She laughed again.

Chapter Text

 

She passed the washroom and stopped short. She frowned and took a step back and poked her head into the room. So she hadn't been seeing things. "What are you two doing?" she asked, specifically aiming it at her husband rather than their toddler son.

"One second," he replied.

She pursed her lips and folded her arms across her chest. Oh, she would have words about this. Very strong words. Very strong words that she prayed would get through Gaston's self-absorbed head. She had to commend him - he took fatherhood in his stride but the line had to be drawn somewhere.

And she thought it already been drawn when she broke him of his Gaston song.

They were styling their hair for pity's sake! And he's- And he's given Nathie one of his own red hair ties!

Belle could and couldn't believe what she was seeing.

A child Nathaniel's age - not even three! - shouldn't start (let alone have any) vanity issues this early!

Sometimes that man...

"What do you think?" he asked.

She tried not to scowl in front of her son - as Gaston had held him up for her to see their fine work - but her brow was tight. She sent Gaston a sharp glare before changing her face to a pleased grin. "Oh, my little boy is so handsome!" She smiled at his giggle and tickled his tummy. "Why don't you go play with your blocks, huh?" she asked.

He nodded happily. "Yeah Mama!"

Gaston put him down and Belle waited until Nathaniel scampered out of sight before smacking her husband's arm. "Don't encourage him to be like you," she warned, pointing a threatening finger at him.

But the man chuckled and gave a shrug. "I'm not. I'm just showing him how great it is."

"Don't," she repeated firmly. "One of you is enough."

"It's not my fault, dear," he continued boastfully, fixing his hair tie. "The boy's got it in him to be dashing like his pa."

She snorted at his nonsense.

He glanced at her then, realizing she was out of bed. His eyes raked over her. "What are you doing up anyway?" he asked. "You should be resting. There's no need to overexert yourself."

She scoffed, "Don't try to change the subject."

"I'm not. I'm only concerned about you and your health. If it's slipped your mind, you just had a baby two weeks ago."

She raised an eyebrow. "It most certainly hasn't slipped my mind though I'm sure it has yours." She continued and pointed a finger at his chest. "I mean it. Don't put these ideas in his head. We're supposed to be raising him into his own person, not trying to make him your mini-me."

"I love you Belle," he grinned dashingly. "Have I told you that today?"

"Gaston, stop."

He stepped around her and rubbed his hands along her upper arms, ducking his head to catch her gaze (and help his case). "Have I told you you look stunning in that pink dress? Brings out your rosy cheeks. Makes you look even more gorgeous."

She narrowed her eyes and tried to be immune - also known as trying not to blush. "Don't do it again."

As usual, he merely chuckled off her threats.

"I'm serious," she said sternly. "Stop this. And stop that song of yours I heard you sing to Gilbert last night. Nathie repeats it every so often, Gaston. I don't want Gilbert the same way-"

He chuckled. "The boy has the potential to become a great singer. He's got to start somewhere."

"Gaston, he's only two weeks old," she tried and knew she failed in reminding him. "Just... oh why bother."

"Oh my Belle, our boys are going to be just fine," he said.

She frowned. What was the catch?

"Strapping young lads exactly like their father," he beamed. "Yes, that's it! We'll have perfect sons!"

There it was. She sighed and shook her head, leaving the room